Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province looks at lasting roll

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MANITOBA appears ready to adopt a permanent electoral roll in a bid to reverse falling voter turnout.

Elections Manitoba recently published a 50-page report about how to adopt a permanent voters list.

  • There are likely long-term cost-savings, voter information would be more secure, the voters list would be up to date on an ongoing basis making it easier for political parties to contact electors. Voters wouldn't have to worry about missing the enumerator. Voters could update their own information online.
  • What are the disadvantages? There would be more reliance on secondary sources (ie. MPI and Elections Canada) in maintaining the voters list. There would be less face-to-face contact with voters by Elections Manitoba. And there would be up-front costs of up to $1 million to launch the new system.

The governing NDP and the Opposition Conservatives -- rarely on the same wavelength these days -- indicated this week they are receptive to the idea.

"I think there's some real serious merit" to it, Premier Greg Selinger said.

Voters would be signed up well before an election, he said.

"The most important thing is that it confirms people's right to participate as citizens in elections," he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said he would favour a new system that's user-friendly and guards against electoral abuse.

"If it benefits the customer, then it's probably a good thing to look at," he said, adding a permanent list could prevent confusion over where a voter is supposed to cast his or her ballot.

After winning a majority in late 2011, Selinger expressed dismay at the low voter turnout -- 55.7 per cent.

He vowed to help improve it, saying anything below 60 per cent is unacceptable.

Selinger said other jurisdictions saved money -- after the initial start-up expenses -- by maintaining a permanent voters list.

Elections Manitoba estimates it would cost $800,000 to $1 million to start a voters list.

Maintaining a permanent list is a more efficient use of tax dollars than costly enumerations.

For the 2011 provincial election, enumeration expenses soared to nearly $2.8 million.

Enumeration costs have been rising. It's not easy to find 3,000 temporary workers to visit every neighbourhood in the province to sign up voters.

Some residents, especially new Canadians, who aren't home when the enumerator visits wonder if they will be able to vote. A permanent list would alleviate that concern.

Saskatchewan is the only other province not to have a permanent voters list. The federal government also has a permanent list.

Shipra Verma, the province's acting chief electoral officer, said if Elections Manitoba gets the green light, there would be one final enumeration before the next provincial election (in either fall 2015 or spring 2016).

Then Elections Manitoba will use other sources to maintain a permanent list.

The office could enter into agreements with Elections Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial agencies such as Manitoba Public Insurance and Vital Statistics and municipalities such as the City of Winnipeg to maintain its list.

Some may see that as a disadvantage because there's no face-to-face contact with enumerators.

Verma said if the proposal goes ahead, Elections Manitoba might one day allow voters to update their information online.

"We might open a registration portal through our website where the voters can contact us through email or directly through our website..." she said.

That would make it easier for voters to register.

Elections Manitoba may still carry out "targeted enumerations" in areas with transient populations or in rapidly developing communities.

And voters would still have the opportunity, under the new system, to swear an oath on election day and cast their ballots.

However, the new system would likely minimize these occurrences.

It would also give political parties a more up-to-date list sooner in the election process.

The creation of a permanent voters list would require several amendments to Manitoba's election laws.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 A3

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