Should permanent residents who do not have citizenship have the right to vote in municipal elections?
The controversial question was raised at an election reform held at the Scarborough Civic Centre on Tuesday.
The event organized by Better Ballots, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about ways to improve municipal elections, drew around 30 participants to discuss ways to make the election process better in Toronto.
According to Better Ballots, a possible benefit of allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections would be the promotion of immigrant integration and the increased accountability in a neighbourhood with a large population of immigrants.
A negative outcome might be devaluing citizenship.
Desmond Cole, project co-ordinator for the I Vote organization, said allowing people to vote for their school board trustee, councillor, and mayor won’t be a deterrent to becoming a citizen and shouldn’t be used to argue against giving municipal voting rights to permanent residents.
“We don’t break up neighbourhoods by citizens and non-citizens.
“Whether or not you are a citizen you have the exact same rights to access and to pay for services as anyone else in this city,” Cole said.
Another controversial option raised was allowing 16 year olds to vote. A possible benefit might be increasing youth interest and involvement in politics. A possible concern might be whether 16 year olds are mature or informed enough to vote.
Dave Meslin, project coordinator for Better Ballots, said they are collecting data on the feelings and thoughts of town hall participants on these topics.
This information will be given to organizations that are already campaigning for the 14 proposed options.
Meslin says he doesn’t think these changes will be implemented for the 2010 Mayoral Race but can be achieved for 2014.
“This is the first phase of a very long three or four year project.
“The first step is to talk to people and see what people want. We can’t advocate for anything until we get an idea of what people want,” Meslin said.
Meslin says the next step is an advocacy campaign.
“If we are trying to address issues around voter turn out, diversity, turn over, and fairness it will be really hard for politician to ignore our campaign,” he said.