Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Voting machines seen as way to motivate voters

Goal is to attract more advance ballots

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ONE hundred and eighty eight votes tallied, thousands more to go.

At least that's how many people had voted with only half an hour more to go on the first day of the advanced poll for the civic general election.

And city hall -- with the aid of spanking new voting machines that help persons with disabilities and people who work across the city from their homes -- is hoping to encourage many more people to vote in this election.

Until Oct. 22, except for Sundays and Thanksgiving, eligible voters can fill in an oval in advance to make their voices heard in the race for mayor, councillor and school trustee.

The general election day is on Oct. 27.

Destiny Reeves, 26, said she has lived in the Mynarski ward her whole life, but this is the first time she has new council candidates to vote for. Veteran Coun. Harry Lazarenko, who was first elected in 1974 and represented the ward for 36 years, retired after suffering an aneurysm in May.

"I would have voted for Harry if I could, but this time it's more the mayoral race which interests me," Reeves said after casting her vote at the advanced poll on the second floor of the council building at city hall.

"I'm eager to see a change. I travel a lot and I see other cities progress while ours has remained stagnant."

Jeremiah Coffey, who said he was in his 60s, admitted not only was it his first advanced vote, it's the first time he has voted in a civic election. But Coffey said he wanted to vote now.

"It's the first time I was inspired to vote," he said.

"It's to support the way things have been going. I want to support the good things that have been happening."

All of the people questioned coming out of the advance poll said they hoped many more citizens would vote in this election to reverse a trend in recent years.

The election in 2006, which saw 38.7 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, was the lowest percentage of voters since the 34 per cent that came out for the 1986 and 1989 elections.

Reeves said when she turned 18 she thought of getting the right to vote rather than being legally able to drink alcohol.

"Along with health care, it's one of Canada's greatest blessings," she said.

"If you don't cast a vote you can't cast an opinion," said Lucy Szkwarek, another advanced voter.

Marc Lemoine, the city's senior election official, said thanks to the 213 new voting machines the city purchased for $700,000, they're able to do many things to make it more convenient for people to vote in advance.

Lemoine said the city is hoping more people will come out to vote because the machines make it possible to vote for candidates in their own ward even if they are at an advance poll elsewhere in the city.

Lemoine said to ensure the process is secure, after voting is closed the memory cards in each machine will be pulled out and taken to city hall where they will have their votes tallied. The ballots will be saved for six months -- in case the results are challenged -- before they are shredded and then recycled.

"We don't have to worry about the Internet -- everything is self-contained."

The machines at advance polls will also make it easier for people with disabilities to vote. If you are vision impaired, you'll be offered a way of voting with a keypad and a ballot printer. Or you can still use a Braille template or get assistance.

Other people with special needs restricting fine motor movement with their hands will be able to mark ballots by moving paddles.

"We try to make things as accessible as we can," Lemoine said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2010 B1

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