City of Victoria to double voting machines in bid to end long waits at polls

Victoria plans to double the number of voting machines and increase the number of polling stations for the next municipal election to try to avoid a repeat of long lineups and waits at the polls last fall.

Councillors have agreed to recommendations in a report from city clerk and chief election officer Chris Coates on lessons learned from the 2018 vote.

“The main issue of concern from the public was the length of time spent in the line at voting locations,” Coates said in his report, noting waits of 45 minutes to an hour were not uncommon.

Coates said the estimated cost of renting additional voting machines for each polling station is $25,000, which he said is small in relation to the $320,000 election budget.

The cost of setting up additional polling stations has yet to be determined.

Victoria saw a 43.5 per cent voter turnout in October, the largest recorded turnout in a city election, up from 39 per cent in the previous election.

That translated to 29,707 ballots cast — 5,042 more than in 2014 and an increase of more than 12,000 from the 2011 election.

The city set up 12 voting places on general election day. In addition, there were six advance voting opportunities, mail-in ballots and special voting stations at care homes with 50 or more residents.

A total of 4,791 advance votes were cast, up from 3,144 in the previous election, along with 197 mail-in ballots and 403 ballots cast at care homes.

Meanwhile, Coates ballparked the cost of a council byelection, should it become necessary, at about $200,000.

Coun. Laurel Collins has announced her intention to seek the NDP nomination for the fall federal election in the hope of succeeding Victoria MP Murray Rankin, who has announced his retirement.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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Source:: Vancouver Sun

US backed Syrian force clears area retaken from IS

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters cleared explosives in the last area retaken from the Islamic State group on Sunday and arrested a number of militants hiding in tunnels, a day after declaring military victory and the end of the extremists’ self-styled caliphate.

The U.S.-led coalition said the clearing operations will continue until the area is secure.

A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who goes by the nom de guerre Mervan The Brave, said Baghouz village where the militants made their final stand is “full of all kinds of explosives.” He said SDF forces have detonated land mines and suicide belts left behind by the militants.

The Kurdish Hawar News Agency reported that during the combing SDF forces arrested a number of militants found hiding in combat tunnels. Mervan The Brave confirmed the reports but had no further details.

Other activist groups monitoring the area reported limited clashes between remaining militants and SDF fighters.

In a series of tweets, the U.S.-led coalition said the SDF continued “back-clearance operations” to rid Baghouz of any militants or weapon caches.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces will continue to deny Daesh a physical space and influence in the area and work to deny them the resources they need to return,” it said using the Arabic acronym for IS. “This back-clearance operation will be deliberate and thorough and help ensure the long-term security for the area.”

A day earlier, a Syrian driver working with NBC News reporters was killed by an explosive device that went off in a house used by the SDF as a command post and a media center for journalists covering the fighting in Baghouz.

Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, said in a statement that network employees escaped unharmed and that the reason for the explosion was being investigated. He expressed “deepest sympathies” to the driver’s family and …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

Disaster aid bill facing a tricky path as it heads to Senate

WASHINGTON — A battle over funding for Puerto Rico is complicating the path forward for a long-delayed disaster aid bill that’s a top political priority for some of President Donald Trump’s Republican allies as it heads to the Senate floor this week.

At stake is $13.5 billion emergency relief legislation to help southern farmers, rebuild hurricane-damaged military bases, repair water systems, and assist victims of last year’s California wildfires, among other purposes.

The measure has wide backing from both Democrats and Republicans and is perhaps most ardently backed by Trump loyalists such as David Perdue, R-Ga., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who face potentially difficult re-election fights next year.

The White House, however, isn’t pleased with the bill and is particularly opposed to efforts by Democrats to make hurricane relief to Puerto Rico more generous. Senate Republicans are supporting food aid to the devastated island and are working with top Democrats like Patrick Leahy of Vermont to try to speed passage of the measure by adding additional help for Puerto Rico.

The House passed a companion $14.2 billion version of the legislation in January, but it got tangled up in the politics of the partial government shutdown and Trump’s demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The measure is especially sought by lawmakers from southern states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, which were hit by hurricanes Michael and Florence last year. There’s money to respond to an earthquake in Alaska, California wildfires and floods in South Carolina, and for the ongoing recovery effort in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

And now there’s widespread flooding in Nebraska, Iowa and other Midwestern states.

In an official position paper in January, the White House said the House bill was far too generous, objecting to almost $6 billion worth of the measure. But it stopped …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

Team to probe crash of Coast Guard ship at Victoria’s Ogden Point

VICTORIA — An independent investigation will try to determine why the Canadian Coast Guard’s newest ship, the Sir John Franklin, struck the Ogden Point breakwater on Friday.

Tim Page, vice-president of government relations for Seaspan Shipyards, said an initial review found the 206-foot vessel has damage to its propeller and its rudder, and has a dent on the port side toward the stern just above the water line. Seaspan built the Sir John Franklin.

It’s not known how the incident will affect the delivery of the Sir John Franklin. The damage has to be fully assessed, said Page.

On Friday, Brian Cant, spokesman for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which owns the breakwater and Ogden Point, checked on the breakwater with the organization’s director of infrastructure after the collision.

Damage to the breakwater above the water line is “really superficial,” he said. The collision happened about 100 metres from the lighthouse. A dive team will look at the underwater portion on Monday, he said.

The ship struck and destroyed recently installed bird nesting boxes. No birds had been using the nesting boxes, which were mounted on a piece of plywood fixed to the breakwater.

The vessel was built by Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver and launched in December 2017 before being brought to Victoria.

The Sir John Franklin was the first large vessel designed and built under the federal National Shipbuilding Strategy and is the first of three fisheries science vessels being built by Seaspan.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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Source:: Vancouver Sun