Elections call for digitized information hub

Anna Beard

In terms of municipal election years, 2014 is to be exactly like every other election year past. The first half of this year has been heavily consumed by declarations and hushed whispers of potential candidates. But like usual, there’s a lack of information sharing – who stands for what and what does it mean for voters?

In Waterloo Region we’re in the interesting position of having a two-tiered government system. Residents are able to vote not only for their preferred school board trustees, city councilors and mayoral candidates, but also for their preferred regional councilors and chair. As a result, each municipal system has a different approach to providing the general public with candidate information.

The City of Kitchener website has a comprehensive approach to covering the election with a full listing of who is running for which role and provides both a telephone number and an e-mail address. Cambridge also operates under this set up though the information is slightly more buried.

The City of Waterloo’s voter information is relatively extensive, but a listing of candidates is hard to find and not accessible from the main landing page like it is for Kitchener. The major difference with Waterloo’s candidate listing is the website links directly to each candidate’s nomination form where people can then find contact information. The information is all there, it just takes more work than it should to find.

While municipal websites are a fantastic way to figure out who is running, unfortunately they fail to provide any concrete information. There are no links to candidate websites, social media accounts or platform summaries. This is a necessity in order to stay neutral, as not all candidates will choose to engage with voters electronically. However, when voter turn out is so low – like the 27 percent turnout for Kitchener in the 2010 election – you would hope municipalities would be doing everything they can to allow people to make an informed decision and actually cast a ballot.

The big difference between 2010 and 2014 is the eight municipalities are working together to create a portal that will direct voters to the information that I had a bit of a go finding, and will be supporting a Twitter widget as well. It’s a good first step, but they’re still some time away from launching.

Local media organizations have done a relatively good job making information readily available to those who want it, but articles and exposure can still come across biased, favouring one candidate over another and focusing on those individuals who give sensationalists that rush of excitement by stoking the fire.

There needs to be a non-partisan, centralized, digital space for voters where real information is listed, not just who is running. A space that pulls together the information that voter’s want – why we should vote, why we should support them and what changes candidates want to bring to the municipalities.