Montreal is ruling out opening up voting by mail to all seniors over 69, saying it doesn’t have enough time to make the necessary changes before the Nov. 7 municipal election.
“It’s impossible to hold a vote by mail on such a large scale in such a short time,” Projet Montréal house leader François Limoges said in city council Tuesday, after city clerk and returning officer Yves Saindon gave a presentation saying it wasn’t feasible to offer mail-in ballots to the city’s estimated 200,000 eligible voters who are 70 or over.
The city will, however, enable some 50,000 seniors who live in designated care facilities, are unable to vote in person for health reasons, or are in quarantine to vote by mail, he said.
Last month, the Quebec government passed Bill 85, which gives municipalities the option of offering the mail-in ballot option to older citizens. Municipalities that wish to do so must pass a council resolution opting for mail-in balloting by July 1.
However, Saindon said the law does not open the door to technical innovations that would facilitate mail-in voting. For example, Montreal’s 22,000-page voters’ list would have to be updated with handwritten notations, he said.
Because most people send in mail-in ballots at the last minute, election workers would not have enough time to count them before election day, so counting would have to continue for several days, which is currently not permitted under Quebec law, he said.
But opposition councillors insisted mail-in balloting is still an option and accused the Projet Montréal administration of dragging its feet.
“The administration’s inaction has left us in a situation where we’re being told there is no more time,” charged Côte-de-Liesse councillor Francesco Miele of the Ensemble Montréal party.
“From the start … you never intended to make it easier for those 70 and over to vote by mail,” he said.
Marvin Rotrand, the independent councillor for Snowdon, noted that Toronto introduced mail-in voting in a Jan. 15 by-election and Laval plans to allow seniors over 69 to vote by mail.
However, Saindon replied that with four times as many seniors as Laval, Montreal faces additional hurdles to implementing the measure.
Rotrand warned that not allowing mail-in voting could lower voter turnout, which barely topped 42 per cent in the 2017 Montreal election.
After Saindon’s presentation, council defeated an opposition motion calling for mail-in voting for people age 70 and over, by a vote of 38 to 18.
In October, the council unanimously approved a motion by St-Laurent mayor Alan DeSousa calling on the Quebec government to permit mail-in voting.
DeSousa said Tuesday there is still time for Montreal to introduce voting by mail in the next election. He encouraged seniors and other citizens to push for the option.
“This is an issue of democratic will and willingness,” he said.