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Niagara Falls
Saturday, June 22, 2024
NOTL axes plan to reduce voting stations

Residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake are getting their polling stations back.

In 2014, after the municipal boundaries changed, the town proposed reducing the number of polling stations from eight to five.

This month the town suggested it was going to further reduce the number of polls to three, though based on feedback from council and residents town staff are now planning to stick with five.

The final decision on where the polling stations will be located will be made by the town clerk, said Holly Dowd, NOTL chief administrative officer.

She said there is no set timeline, however staff are in the process of “tightening up” the polls so that there is one station per community.

The decision, she said, will not go before council.

“The clerk doesn’t have to go to council and ask for how many polling stations they want … we heard the public and council very clear that they want us to go back to five,” said Dowd.

NOTL Town Clerk Peter Todd said that he is working on finding the five locations, and will submit an information report to council before the end of May.

“The deadline (for selecting the locations) would be when we’re putting it on (resident) voter cards, but I plan on giving council an update much sooner than that,” said Todd.

He said May is not a set deadline, but more a practical date to ensure voter cards get out in a timely manner.

Before deciding to stick with five stations, Dowd said the town had planned to combine Queenston, St. Davids and Glendale into a “mega poll” that would be stationed at Niagara College's Niagara-on-the-Lake campus, while keeping its Old Town and Virgil locations.

Dowd said the initial idea was that having stations in one place would make things easier for voters and that rural residents wouldn't be too strained by the distance as they're used to driving.

“It’s a beautiful venue at Niagara College … You could have had a mega poll and the students would have been on reading week,” she said.

Queenston resident Rob Copeland, assistant district fire chief at Niagara-on-the-Lake District 4 Fire Station (Queenston Firehall) and former town councillor, said Niagara College is still a “ways-away” for residents in Queenston and St. Davids.

Copeland, who disagreed with the idea of poll reductions in the first place, feels both Queenston and St. Davids were being “discounted” from voting as a result and that the town shouldn't have changed something that was working.

“If something has worked for so long, why change it? And why change it in a way that would adversely affect your voter turnout? Voter turnout is the most important thing.”

“(Niagara College) is less accessible as far as I'm concerned.”

Dowd said the town has used the Queenston Firehall as a polling station in past years, though town staff is looking into alternatives due to accessibilities concerns.

“We have to have facilities that do not have any barriers for the voters,” she said.

Copeland said the parking lot, entrance and ground floor to the Queenston Firehall are “completely accessible” but admitted there were no devoted accessible washrooms.

“We have a senior population, and the fire hall is just not conducive for what we’re trying to use,” Dowd said.

She said town staff is currently looking at another facility for the Queenston station but would not comment further.

Copeland said he thinks an alternative suggestion should have been brought forward in the first place, pointing out the Laura Secord Homestead has been used as a voting station for provincial and federal elections in the past.

Dowd hinted the Laura Secord Homestead has been considered, though Todd has not made his final decision.

She said the effort to increase the accessibility of polling stations is a part of the town’s Vote Anywhere strategy, which has included upgrading voting technology to make voting easier.

Both Dowd and Todd said the goal is to make the voting experience both convenient and accessible for all communities in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“We're just as interested in finding locations that are convenient to the electors, but we also need to keep in mind of those who have mobility issues,” said Todd.

“We don’t want to have any barriers for our voters,” added Dowd.

The municipal elections will be held Monday Oct. 22.

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