Count her in: Returning officer celebrates long career as she prepares for next election

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Thirty-three years of experience in municipal and provincial elections behind her ensures Josephine MacDonald has seen just about everything that the big day can throw at her.

The returning officer for this year’s upcoming municipal elections is already beginning her long preparation for October 17 with much to do still until the final tally is called and the winners announced.

Beginning since she was old enough to vote, MacDonald has done just about every job on the polling and organization side of an election that you can think of and has enjoyed the job since.

“A lot of people don’t think about the process of it,” she said adding that since she began the position methods have changed with different voting methods and different materials used now.

“There was not even a thought of (electronic voting),” said MacDonald about the process. “When we first started we used the tin ballot boxes.”

MacDonald walked through the steps she must go through each election year to prepare for the big day months in advance. To kick things off, councils must get permission to use Elections Canada voters lists for the upcoming election, then there is a revision period which this year began on August 1. Beginning on this date, people that are not registered to vote can now sign up to do so. MacDonald added that if you recently changed your name because of marriage or something else, are newly 18 or just moved, you should check on updating your information. Newly 18-year olds that turn 18 up to the voting date are eligible.

Because of public health regulations and the recent COVID-19 pandemic the election this year will take a bigger step into the future by using only internet and telephone voting to prevent the public from gathering at polling stations. Due to this update in the system, this year eligible voters will receive a pin number in the mail that they can use to log on or call in to vote. MacDonald added that this year everyone should have their letter by October 5 and the number to call will be on the elections website later on.

MacDonald is anticipating getting busy soon as the nomination deadline of September 8 is fast approaching. The week before she usually recommends that possible candidates book an appointment to come in and register to make sure they have everything together as nomination day itself is first-come first-serve and if candidates are missing something they have to get it and bring the application back that day.

Anyone thinking about running for a position in their local council can find the nomination forms on www.pictoucountyelections.ca. Other than the forms candidates will need to pay a $200 fee as well as have all their taxes paid with a receipt from a clerk as well as five signatures of support, although she recommends getting 10.

“It’s a huge job,” she said about pulling everything together for election day.

The benefit of internet voting, MacDonald shared, is that if you go to vote for a councillor but haven’t decided on who you want to vote for mayor yet you can always go back and vote for that position later, although she warns, “Once you submit you cannot go back.” There should, however, be two opportunities to edit your answer and clarify you are done before submitting.

When online voting was first introduced, the returning officer was surprised to learn that the 55 to 80-year-old age range was the group that most used the online option. All voting for this election will be done online, although MacDonald added that for those without internet and phone access or those who have a problem with either and cannot submit their vote can visit one of the kiosks in each of the towns or areas that will be there to assist. And for anyone who would like to help out and has some computer know-how, MacDonald encourages them to call 902-485-2248 to become a volunteer for one of the kiosks.

“These are not polling stations,” she stressed. “We’re trying to protect the public by not having large groups in attendance.”

Electronic voting will not only make a big impact on voters on election day but an impact for the better for MacDonald and her team as well as the new system will save them from having to spend hours counting and recounting ballot boxes stuffed with votes. Regularly she and her team would be at the office until midnight or so, however, this year they expect to have results within the hour.

“(The results) will be up on the website,” she shared, noting that the public can follow along this way.