Second homeowners petition for mail-in ballot 

Municipal staff will recommend a program to Whistler council

Jim Szabo has owned property in Whistler for 22 years but has not voted in a single municipal election here.

He lives primarily in West Vancouver and, he said, his work-life has prevented him from ticking off ballots for Whistler's municipal elections.

"My address is down here but if I'm not working, I'm at Whistler," he said.

"I spend quite a bit of money in Whistler. I have a home there, I pay taxes, I should have a say in who's sitting in the mayor's seat. Unfortunately, for those of us who own homes down here, we can't get to Whistler in the week, so we just don't have a say."

Szabo said that if the RMOW implemented mail-in voting, everyone in Metro Vancouver with a stake in Whistler's municipal elections can have their say, which will mean greater voter turnout in 2011.

He is one of 36 people to submit a letter to council petitioning them to implement mail-in ballots for the November election. Every individual submitted the same generic letter to council, many of them submitted via email.

Shannon Story, manager of legislative services for the RMOW, said she is planning to recommend mail-in voting to council this spring but is unable to submit any changes to the election bylaws until the provincial government finalizes changes to the Local Government Act.

She said she doesn't expect any of these changes will affect the municipal election process but believes it's better to play it safe than sorry.

"I can't go until the spring - well, I could, but it would be a mistake on my part because I might have to go back," she said.

She could not specify how much money needs to be allotted in the 2011 budget to implement such a program.

Vote-by-mail was introduced in B.C. legislation in 2008 with 32 municipalities across the province implementing it. Story said Whistler council decided in 2008 to wait until 2011 to look into implementing a mail-in ballot program, partly because there wasn't any money budgeted to pay for implementation, and also to see how it rolled out in other communities during the last election.

"I really wanted to see how it wedged other municipalities and any litigation that came from it, before I enacted it in Whistler, where I thought it could really impact the election," she said.

"I wanted to make sure that we did it right and I didn't feel like having a couple of months notice to get it ready would give us a chance to make sure that we really did it right."

She said the program wasn't "particularly successful" for most municipalities she has heard from. Some didn't have enough time to properly organize it, while others didn't have enough money to properly implement it. In other places, few if any citizens took the local governments up on their offer.

But it seems that take up won't be an issue in Whistler. There is a significant movement from the community to implement mail-in ballots. It's one of the issues being tackled by the Whistler Coalition of Concerned Citizens. And aside from the letters to council, Story and council members have personally received numerous calls from people asking that the process be implemented.

"We have such a large population of secondary homeowners, and secondly, a large section of our population seems to go away during that (election) time," she said by way of explanation.

People have written or called in to Whistler from as far as Nottingham, U.K.

Many of them are second homeowners who, like Robert Dewhirst of Guelph, have spent every month except election month in Whistler.

"If the council really wants to represent the people of the area, they should make it such that more people could vote," Dewhirst said.

Like Szabo, he has never voted in a Whistler election, despite having owned property in the resort since 1988. He said he had no idea until very recently that he and his wife even had the ability to vote in Whistler elections.

"I always thought that because I wasn't there I couldn't vote," he said.

"I've never received anything (from the municipality) to say that I could vote."

(For more council stories check next week's edition of the Pique and go to www.piquenewsmagazine.com.)

 

 

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