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How to vote in #BencherElection2019

|Written By Anita Balakrishnan
How to vote in #BencherElection2019
Gavin MacKenzie, a lawyer who isn’t running for bencher, will preside over this year’s LSO bencher election.

Voting will open the week of April 15 for the Law Society of Ontario’s bencher election, says Jim Varro, the LSO elections officer.

The process, which Varro says doesn’t have an exact opening date and time but will close April 30 at 5 p.m. EDT, will determine the composition of the board responsible for regulating Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals.

One challenge for candidates is getting Ontario’s 52,000 lawyers and 9,000 paralegals out to vote. In 2015, Varro says, winners ranged from about 2,000 votes to more than 5,900 votes.

“I hope everyone reads the communications that are coming from the law society and gets out there and votes and encourages their colleagues and friends to vote as well,” says Varro.

The 2019 race is unusual in that more candidates are running now (128 lawyers) than any time since before 1995 (when there were at least 122 lawyers), according to the LSO’s 2015 results. There are also 18 paralegals running.

Regardless of where they live and practise, lawyers may only cast 40 votes: 20 for lawyer candidates inside Toronto and 20 for lawyer candidates outside Toronto. Varro says there will still be an option to vote for 20 lawyers outside Toronto this year, although one seat has already been filled by bencher Jack Braithwaite, whose candidacy in his region was unopposed.

Another unusual aspect of the election is that paralegals and lawyers are being elected together for the first time. However, paralegal licensees will get separate ballots and are limited to five votes, says the LSO.

The law society’s voting procedures say it will use Computershare Ltd.’s technology to help run the election.

The first major step for voters is to save an email from the law society that will be sent in the second week of April. The email will go to any licensee who is not suspended as of April 5, says Varro. If you believe you should get an email and you don’t, Varro suggests reaching out to him at the law society.

That email has a control number, which is also posted on licensees’ Law Society Portal account. It’s required to vote, and voters that lose the number have to retrieve it from Computershare (the number is 1-888-344-2805 in Canada and the service is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

There are several options for voting, says Varro. The law society offers voting in English and French, both online and by phone, according to its voting procedure guide. Varro says voters with disabilities or special needs may contact him to work out accommodations with Computershare as well. There are no paper ballots, he says.

Voters who plan to weigh in by phone must also keep track of the law society’s official voting guide, available on licensees’ portals. A voter who wants to cast a vote for a specific candidate must enter the two-digit number listed by each candidate’s name in the voting guide, the LSO’s rules say.

The bylaws also say that if the treasurer is running for bencher, they must appoint a lawyer who isn’t running to preside over the election — this year, that role has been given to Gavin MacKenzie, a former LSO treasurer and lawyer at MacKenzie Barristers. MacKenzie may be called upon in situations such as a tie, when two or more candidates receive the same number of votes and the number of bencher seats left is fewer than the number of candidates that are tied.

There’s no set time when the election results are released, says Varro, but in the past, it has taken a few hours into the evening to count and verify the votes.
After that, the bylaws have specific rules about how Varro should announce the results: First, Convocation is notified; then candidates receive an email with the results.

“And then, the bylaw requires me to publish the results on our website as well,” he says.

Poll Question

What do you see as the top issue that prospective benchers need to address if they are elected?