Make no mistake. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is keeping an eye on The County of Haliburton and its four lower-tier municipalities when it comes to the modernization funding the province has handed over to assist the five governments to find efficiencies.

A media relations spokesperson reminded me recently that the Ontario government has no intention of forcing amalgamations or annexations in Ontario. However, it is encouraging municipalities to look for opportunities to work together and support locally-developed solutions that are mutually-beneficial.

All four municipal clerks have brought virtually the same report to their respective council meetings about the method of voting for the 2022 election.

They all said they were striving for consistency across the board. This hasn’t happened in the past. Residents of Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills have had different voting methods at various times. It has been confusing for County residents.

The clerks said if all four selected the same voting method for the 2022 ballot there would be an opportunity to work collaboratively to deliver a consistent election with equally consistent training, education, advertising, processes and procedures. In essence, they could put out a joint RFP that would result in all Highlands voters being on the same page, and all of them benefitting from costs savings.

It made perfect sense and was in keeping with the County’s recent services delivery review.

Dysart et al was the first to vote for the recommended e-voting only, using internet and telephone. They used vote-by-mail last time around. While councillors had some concerns, they thought it was a method whose time had come.

Algonquin Highlands is also onboard. They scrapped vote-by-mail to go with e-voting, too. They stressed the cost savings as one reason for their unanimous council vote.

At a Highlands East meeting May 18, they also opted for e-voting only.

That leaves Minden Hills. They were the only council to vote against their clerk’s recommendation. They instead chose a hybrid model of e-voting and paper ballots. This despite the fact clerk Trisha McKibbin specifically did not recommend a combination of voting methods. She said it’s very labour intensive, expensive and may be confusing for the public. She argued for consistency in all four townships.

Coun. Bob Carter largely led the charge to keep paper balloting in Minden Hills and his colleagues voted with him.

While I understand that Carter is worried about older people, in particular, having to adapt to e-voting, the Minden decision, in the larger context, is wrong. It harkens back to an age-old silo mentality that has not served County residents well in the past.

Don’t think councillors in Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, and Highlands East didn’t have reservations about scrapping paper ballots. They did. However, they opted for a new approach that better meets today’s needs. And they’ll go out of their way to make sure everyone who wants to vote can.

Even more worrisome, Minden Hills’ decision sends a message to the ministry that it is dancing to the beat of its own drum – even though other townships have shown a willingness to change in the name of consistency and efficiency.

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