A citizen’s group said they sent out thousands of letters via Canada Post to ensure renters in the city are getting the proper information needed and are able to vote in the upcoming municipal election.
Good Governance Group spokesperson Mike Sullivan said the City of Stratford sent a letter via first class mail to all homeowners in the city, with voting instructions for October’s election.
The city did not send the same letter to thousands of renters, he said, so his group mailed out instructions on voter qualifications, voter registration and other information including where to find the election section on the city website.
The Good Governance Group describe themselves as citizens committed to the principles of participatory democracy – transparency, full accountability, and a commitment to draw public opinion into the council decision-making process.
Most of the group live in Stratford, Sullivan said.
Using old census data for the number of rental units in the city combined with the average number of occupants per unit, Sullivan said his best 'educated guess' is 8,000 renters are eligible to vote.
Currently, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is responsible for maintaining municipal voting lists, however, MPAC only has relevant information on property owners, he said.
Sullivan reached out to MPAC and was told they will not send letters to renters.
“The law requires MPAC to enumerate, the easiest way to enumerate is to send a letter, but they won’t do that. They do ask landlords to send lists of their tenants but landlords don’t always do that.”
“MPAC takes the view that it is each citizen’s responsibility to be on the list. You can’t do that unless you know how to make sure you are on the list.”
Sullivan said when he reached out to city staff to see why only homeowners got the city’s letter, he was told the city will use marketing efforts to get the word out to renters.
Stratford city clerk Tatiana Dafoe told StratfordToday that MPAC has statutory responsibility to enumerate electors in municipal elections. MPAC creates a preliminary list of electors, which comes from a variety of different sources, she said, the main one is called voter lookup.
“MPAC has an online system called voterlookup.ca. Eligible electors can enter info and check if they are on the voting list, or update or change information.”
Dafoe said from May to August, the municipality’s main role is to promote MPAC’s tools – encouraging eligible electors to go to voterlookup.ca, ensure they are on the list, and add themselves through MPAC’s process. If they are not on the list there is a number to call.
The city actively promotes this on its website, social media sites, through media ad buys and transit bus screen messaging, she said. The city also included an insert with voting information in property tax bills and they have takeaway information sheets at city hall.
Dafoe said the Municipal Elections Act states that starting on Sept. 1 until the close of voting on voting day, the municipality can accept applications to amend the voters list.
“So if someone is not on the voters list, if they have moved or information has changed, they can come to the city clerk’s office and we can add them until Oct. 24 (municipal election day)."
“We are going to communicate and promote this, especially as we approach September and we can then accept those applications. We are going to do the same communication planning, we will reach out to different organizations."
“There is a lot that goes into promoting the municipal election, and making sure eligible electors are on the list and can get on the list and are able to vote.”
Sullivan understands the constraints that MPAC operates under and noted that the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO) have lobbied for some time for change to the system. Elections Ontario – who have more access to voter data – are scheduled to take over the responsibility after recent legislation was passed, he noted.
Sullivan said the Good Governance Group did get some feedback after the letters were sent out – some who replied had no idea what to do before they read it. He does not know how many people went to MPAC and asked if they are on the list after reading the group’s letter.
“If you are not on the voter’s list, you have to fill out a form, it’s a lot of work for a society where only 50 per cent (of eligible voters) vote.”
To access the City of Stratford's election page, click here: http://www.stratford.ca/elections