If you’re going to be out of town on November 19 and still want to vote in the municipal election you’d better live in Radium Hot Springs.
While the village passed a bylaw allowing residents who meet certain criteria to vote via the post, Invermere has no such bylaws. And district voter Joan Rouse says it’s time for that to change.
Rouse says she began investigating mail-in options in October, when she learned the date of this year’s election conflicted with her travel plans.
“I talked to a lot of people who were going to be away in November and thought, ‘ooh, just a minute. That means there’s a lot of us that aren’t going to be able to vote,'” she says.
“A number of businesses close and a number of the permanent population go away. And if they don’t go away for say four or five months, a lot of people go away in November, just because it’s in between and the weather isn’t that great.”
However, when she contacted the district, she learned Invermere council had never changed its election bylaw to allow mail-in voting — an option available to B.C. communities since 2008.
While the district could still change its bylaw, district CAO Chris Prosser says the province requires communities to make those kind of changes by July of an election year. Radium council changed its bylaw this spring.
“A lot of people weren’t aware that if we’d gotten together and thought about it before, there was an opportunity to have it changed,” says Rouse.
“I just really wanted to make people aware of the fact that it’s not going to happen this year, and we’re hoping that for the next election things will be different.”
At the district’s latest meeting, Prosser told council there wasn’t a demand for a mail-in system when council last looked at its election bylaw in 2008. At the time, only two people had requested mail-in options, and both were second homeowners who weren’t actually eligible to vote in Invermere.
In Radium, councillor Clara Reinhardt says the voting option was added to the bylaw in hopes of drawing in residents who wouldn’t otherwise fill out a ballot at all — part time residents who winter in the U.S., or tourism operators using the shoulder season to take a vacation.
“We don’t have a whole pile of voters to begin with, and when you lose your business owners and some of your part time residents you lose a real part of the whole electoral process,” she says.
While she’s not sure how many people will vote by mail, Reinhardt says the village is spreading the word as much as it can, and she’s forwarded information about applying for the special ballot to people she’s aware of who may qualify. Applications must be in to the village by November 17.
“We only have a voter list of around 450, and last time we only had 150 votes,” she adds. “If we get 10 or 20 more voters, that would be a 10 per cent improvement.”
Rouse’s concern has already got Invermere council talking about amending its election bylaw, and district staff were directed to bring back a report on the issue.
But while she’ll continue to push for mail-in ballots when the next election rolls around in 2014, she says she’s disappointed she’ll miss out on voting this time.
“I’m really upset about it. Both my husband and I are,” Rouse says. “We’re permanent residents, we pay taxes, and we really want to be able to have a say in who is elected for our local representatives.”