Emotions, turnouts run high
J.T. McVeigh Photo -- Barrie, Ontario -- October 26, 2010Jennifer Robinson, the new councillor for Ward 8 spent the day collecting election signs from around the ward. The former Canadian skating champion didn't know she captured the seat until Tuesday morning.
The lights went out and the screen showing Barrie's election results rolled up.
It was midnight and Jennifer Robinson sat in council chambers with no answer. She was the leading candidate in Ward 8 one minute and the next it was Alison Eadie.
Jeff Lehman had long been declared mayor of Barrie, all the other ward races were over. But the neck-and-neck struggle between the two women in Ward 8 laboured on.
"At no point did I figure it was mine," said Robinson. "I knew it was going to go to the very last poll."
So the six-time Canadian figure skating champion went home and tried to watch the remaining results dribble in on television, but ultimately, she gave up and went to bed. At 2 a.m. she was roused by the phone. Robinson was declared victor with 844 votes over Eadie's 821.
Delighted and exhausted, Robinson went back to bed.
"I'm very, very excited and so thrilled," she said Tuesday. "I think council table is going to be an interesting place."
The prospect of who might sit at that table was obviously of interest to voters, who flocked to Barrie polls like nothing the city has seen in more than two decades. More than 35,000 people of an eligible 84,145 voted, representing about 40%.
While the roughly 40% turnout is not as high as what the provincial or federal elections might command, it is decisively higher than the 30% turnout in each of Barrie's last two elections, which was also roughly the average of municipalities across the province.
The last time Barrie saw 40% of its population vote in a municipal election was in 1988 when the population was about 60,000, less than half of the 140,000 people who now call this place home.
"I'm very pleased with the voter turnout," said city clerk Dawn McAlpine.
And despite four days of advance polls set up across the city, along with two days of special polls installed in apartment buildings with more than 100 residents, way more than half of those who voted waited until the final day.
The polls were particularly swamped during the last two hours. While the doors at the polling stations closed at 8 p.m., those inside were permitted to vote -- but those line-ups were up to 45 minutes long. And not everyone had the patience to sit it through.
"Ridiculous. Waited an hour at Hewitts Creek PS before giving up in disgust. Still had at least 20 minutes in line left to wait," David Connors posted on Facebook.
Others weren't so rushed, happy to see democracy unfold. Jon Aston wrote: "We waited a good 30 minutes at Holly Community Centre. Made me happy that so many turned out to vote!"
McAlpine's crew tries to anticipate where the needs are highest and the city employed more people and machines this election, in hopes of moving people through quickly. That could be a challenge when 21,000 people vote on the same day.
City staff will be reviewing several aspects of the election process to develop a strategy for the next election in four years' time.
Another aspect to be reviewed is the tabulation of the votes, which happened too slowly for many, including the voters and candidates in Ward 8.