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Mississauga council shuts down mail-in voting for 2022 election citing negative feedback

Nixing mail-in ballots will disenfranchise thousands of voters, Parrish says
March 3, 2022
Steve Cornwell

A plan to allow mail-in ballots for the first time ever in the upcoming Mississauga election has been shut down after first being approved by council’s general committee.

Mississauga council voted 10 to one to not go ahead with mail-in ballots in this year’s election at a Wednesday, March 2 meeting with several councillors citing cost and resident feedback following the plan being approved by the committee a week earlier.

Ward 9 Coun. Pat Saito moved the motion to reject mail-in ballots at the meeting and offered concerns about the estimated $400,000 price tag of the program.

She said since Mississauga general committee approved mail-in ballots Feb. 23, the resident feedback she received has been mostly negative.

“There doesn't seem to be a lot of support,” she said. “I haven't had anyone contact me saying they think (mail-in ballots are) a great idea.”

City reports and council motions typically pass through general committee before being considered again by city council. Both general committee and city council are composed entirely of Mississauga's 12 council members.

Several councillors said at the March 2 meeting that they received numerous calls and emails from residents concerned about allowing mail-in ballots and the estimated $400,000 price tag, part of around $4 million in city costs to run the election.

Ward 8 Coun. Carolyn Parrish was the lone vote against shutting down the mail-in ballots and said the move would “disenfranchise” thousands of Mississauga voters who don’t feel comfortable going to polling stations or can’t vote on election day.

“I think this is a way to get more people to vote and for people to vote comfortably who don't want to get out of the house,” she said. “We still have people that don't even go grocery shopping.”

Sue Klein-Shanly, who is chair of the Mississauga Residents' Association Network, spoke at the council meeting and questioned what benefits would come with allowing mail-in ballots.

She was also critical of what she called a “potential lack of transparency” in the plan.

“If the city wants to make election reforms, take your time,” Klein-Shanly said. “Do the research and then consult with the public and then implement them for the next election.”

Mississauga’s commissioner of corporate services Shari Lichterman said at the meeting that staff began researching using mail-in ballots months earlier as another wave of COVID-19 created concerns about how the city’s election might have been impacted.

“Of course, we're all hoping that we won't have to worry about restrictions at that time, but we don't know, and we've had a lot of ups and downs during the pandemic,” she said.

In the lead-up to the September 2021 federal election, Peel’s medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh asked residents to consider using mail-in ballots to help avoid potential exposures to COVID-19.

In that election, 17,233 mail-in ballots were cast by Mississauga voters, an 83 per cent increase over the 9,418 mailed in votes for city ridings in the 2019 federal election.

In addition to possible COVID-19 impacts on the 2022 election, Mississauga city staff have suggested that, because the Monday, Oct. 24 election falls during Diwali celebrations, additional efforts are required to ensure electors are aware of alternative voting days.

The vote against mail-in ballots was at least the second instance of Mississauga council halting potential election reform for the 2022 race.

In September 2020, council opted against considering ranked ballots for this year’s election, a move that would allow voters to rank their top choices for ward councillor and mayor.

Under that system, if no candidates get over 50 per cent of the vote, ballots with a first choice that is not in contention would have their second choices counted toward those still in the race.