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Toronto municipal election primer websites aim to improve voter engagement

The message is clear in any election: exercise your right to vote, but also make an informed choice. But what if you are in a haze of too much information, misinformation, or lack thereof?

In Toronto’s municipal election, which is on Oct. 27, two election primer websites – PositionPrimer.ca and Pollenize.org – are trying to help residents figure out which candidate meets their vision for the city.

What is PositionPrimer.ca?

With 358 candidates running to be councillors across 44 wards, it is difficult to decipher each candidate’s platform, or where he or she stands on relevant issues.

PositionPrimer.ca, which was launched on Tuesday, has simplified the overwhelming process for voters by presenting the candidates’ views in their own words and comparing them in one central place.

The website was created by Women in Toronto Politics, also known as WiTOpoli, which is a non-partisan grassroots organization that aims to promote civic dialogue.

Abby Plener, a spokesperson with WiTOpoli, said the group wanted to make Torontonians more engaged in municipal politics, particularly at the councillor level.

“The mayor will only have one vote in council, and it’s important that we really reflect on the city council candidates as well,” Plener said.

“Because there are so many, we thought it would be really great to make a one-stop shop to get people an entry point to start researching the candidates.”

Plener said PositionPrimer.ca gives candidates an opportunity to detail their platforms on a level playing field.

“[It’s] an opportunity to showcase their platforms equally among all other candidates despite their varying levels of resources,” she said.

She said WiTOpoli wanted to wait to launch the site after Sept. 12, which was the last day for candidates could enter or withdraw from the race, so that they could include as many candidates.

Information-gathering process

WiTOpoli sent an online survey to each candidate running in each ward (those whose contact information they could find), and asked them to submit their unedited views on nine issues, such as transportation, taxation, employment and poverty.

Plener said the candidates were asked to summarize their thoughts in 500 characters or less, to make it a “concise, easy-to-read comparison to view your candidates side by side.”

Candidates who participated were also asked to identify one issue that is “specifically important to their ward.”

After you enter in your postal code on PositionPrimer.ca, or if you already know your ward, the next screen displays a list of candidates and their views on issues. SOURCE: PositionPrimer.ca
After you enter in your postal code on PositionPrimer.ca, or if you already know your ward, the next screen displays a list of candidates and their views on issues. SOURCE: PositionPrimer.ca

How it works

Once you plug in your postal code, you click on a link that takes you to a list of candidates in your ward and where they stand on each of the nine issues. The candidate’s website and contact information are also provided.

If you already know your ward, you can bypass that step, and click on wards.

The website also lists the names of the candidates who did not fill out the survey.

What is Pollenize.org?

With over 40 debates on tap for the major mayoral candidates, news conferences, campaign releases and so on, the voter can feel overwhelmed with the plethora of information, or the information can get lost in translation.

Pollenize.org has developed a website and app, which present who the candidates are and their platforms in a “readable, friendly, and visually-appealing format.” It was launched on Aug. 21.

Visual overview of Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow's views on transit and congestion on Pollenize's website. SOURCE: Pollenize.org
Visual overview of Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow’s views on transit and congestion on Pollenize’s website. SOURCE: Pollenize.org

Trevor Blades, designer and Web developer of Pollenzie.org, said he noticed in March that there was a push for people to get out and vote, but the information is not easily accessible.

“There’s all this pressure to vote but the information required to do was extremely difficult to obtain, or too limited to make an informed decision,” Blades said.

Sixty-five candidates are in the race to become Toronto’s next mayor, but realistically, only a handful of them stood a real chance. Rather than showcase every candidate, Pollenize decided to feature the main ones.

“We wanted to really focus and give the people of Toronto a detailed look at the popular topics of conversation,” Blades said.

Information-gathering process

Pollenize.org sourced the information from campaign websites, articles, speeches, social media, etc., to compile a narrative for each candidate.

With Rob Ford, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki out of the mayoral race, the push is on to include a profile of Doug Ford.

“There’s not enough sources for us to compile an entire platform for Doug Ford,” Blades said, but added that they “want to get him in there as soon as possible.”

How it works

Click on the candidate you want to read more about. The page includes a brief biography of the candidate, where they stand on major issues, links to their campaign releases, their Twitter handle, a key quote and more.

Looking for more information?

CityNews.ca has interviewed most of the 65 mayoral candidates running for office. Click here to hear what each of them have to say.

The City of Toronto has a breakdown of all the candidates running for mayor, as well their contact information and website links. Voters can also view a list of councillor and school trustee candidates, and search by ward, postal code or nomination date. Click here for more information.

For everything you need to know about how, when and where to vote, and other information, click here.