SARNIA, ONT. -- City council in Sarnia could be facing a backlash before the next election after a vote to scrap paper ballots altogether in favour of an internet-only voting system.

That from a long-time Lambton County-based advocate for senior citizens.

“A lot of them don’t even have computers,” commented Bernice Rade. “And a lot of them who do have them still had difficulties in the last election trying to use them for voting.”

Rade’s concerns follow a five to four vote by Sarnia City Council Monday night.

She fears many seniors will be shut out of the democratic process because they don’t have the technology or the means to participate.

“You know we’re a democratic society. People have the right to vote and that voting system should be able to accommodate people of all ages, people with or without computer knowledge, or even access to a computer.”

According to a city staff report, internet-only voting would cost $386,000, compared to a hybrid voting system of both internet and paper ballots at $604,000. That's a difference of $218,000.

Councillor Terry Burrell called the difference in cost “stunning,” but added, “I have no objection to hybrid voting. You can do all kinds of ways. But the cost is so much more to try to do every thing for every person. You can’t please everybody.”

Councillor Nathan Colquhoun referred to the technology used for paper ballots as a “dumber computer” compared to online voting.

“I would rather us just stick to online voting ‘cause it works, and not just use it for the sense of optics just to use outdated technology just so people can feel better about using paper.”

The vote ignores a recommendation from council’s election committee to approve a hybrid model of both paper and online ballots.

Councillor Margaret Bird said it also goes against the wishes of the voters themselves.

“We’ve had several surveys and things to cover this and the electors have decided they want a hybrid voting method. So if we go against that we are ignoring the public that we were elected to support.”

Mayor Mike Bradley said he’s troubled by council’s decision.

“The price of democracy, to give everybody the best opportunity possible to vote the way they want, should be a basic obligation of a city council. So I disagreed with the final outcome, it was a very close vote. I respect the vote. But I do believe it would disenfranchise a number of citizens.”

In the meantime, council’s vote may be in, but Rade contends the fight is not over yet.

“I think there will be a all likelihood this issue could be revisited again before it’s finally decided.”

Municipal voters in Ontario go to the polls Oct. 24, 2022.