Amid concerns that a federal election during the COVID-19 pandemic is simply too risky for Canadians, officials have stepped in, promising this year’s polling stations will be safe for voters and poll workers.
Elections Canada officials took to the floor on Wednesday to explain key differences in this year’s federal vote, as well as new health guidelines designed to help curb the spread of the virus.
Stéphane Perrault, Election Canada’s chief electoral officer, told reporters that safety measures will be “rigorously” applied at polls, both on election day (Sept. 20) and during advanced voting.
“The measures that we have in place reflect consultations that we had over the last year and continue to have with public health authorities at all levels,” he said.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s changing.
In order to comply with public health guidelines, Elections Canada is mandating masks this year for anyone voting in provinces and territories that require face coverings. Officials speaking on behalf of Elections Canada said Wednesday the agency had purchased “a good supply of masks” that will be available at each polling site for anyone who shows up without a face covering.
Disposable pencils, hand sanitizing stations and physical distancing measures with directional signage will be available at all polling station entrances and exits.
In voting guidelines emailed to Global News, Elections Canada said there will also be fewer poll workers at stations this year, in an effort to reduce the number of physical interactions with voters. Voters can expect to see one poll worker per desk, which will be separated from electors by plexiglass. And everything, from door handles and work stations to other surfaces — will be sanitized regularly.
This year’s election is also expected to cost more. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Perrault said the 44th federal election will cost an estimated $612 million — almost $100 million more than the last in 2019.
All eligible electors — either at home or abroad — can apply online to vote by mail this year. This is new: previously, the option to mail-in ballots was only available to Canadians living abroad or voting from outside of their riding.
Perrault cautioned voters against voting last-minute by mail, as Elections Canada needs to receive all completed voter kits by the time the polls close for them to count.
“Electors who want to vote by mail should plan to do so early,” he said Wednesday.
“They should leave enough time for their voter kit to get to them and for them to return it to Elections Canada by Election Day.”
Elections Canada said all ballots must be received in completed voting kits by the time polls close on election day in order to count. For the first time, voting kits will include both pre-addressed and postage-paid return envelopes.
Concerned your completed kit won’t be returned in time?
Elections Canada said voters can either drop them off in-person on election day at their assigned poll or riding polling station, or have someone they trust do it for them instead.
In anticipation of the influx of mail-in ballots this year, Elections Canada said to expect delays in voting results. The agency also said early voting will be extended by one week. Voters will receive complementary campaign information with their kits that includes COVID-19 health and safety precautions.
Due to the pandemic, Elections Canada said “some polling places may differ from those used in the past, or may be slightly further from voters’ homes than those used for previous elections.” The agency encouraged students living away from home and seniors to vote by mail.
Voting options for seniors will vary, depending on what Elections Canada returning officers determine is easiest for long-term care facilities based on public health recommendations.
Seniors voting at these residences can vote at a poll set up inside their facility either during advance polling days or on election day, “through a coordinated special ballot voting process, supported by staff at the facility.” They can also vote by mail.
Expect delayed results
Stéphane Perrault, Election Canada’s chief electoral officer, told reporters Wednesday that election results could be delayed, depending on how many people vote by mail this year.
“If the volume of mail in ballots is high, as we’ve seen in other jurisdictions during a pandemic, it will take longer for returning officers to count those ballots in most locations,” he said.
“This should be done within two days, but in some districts it could take as long as five days, depending on the volume and the distribution.”
How to vote by mail
Eligible Canadians living either at home or abroad can apply to vote by mail this year. But there are deadlines involved and once the decision is made to vote by mail, voting in-person is out of the question.
“By law, electors who apply to vote by mail cannot simply change their mind later on and vote another way,” Perrault said.
“If they have a problem with their kit, if they have not received their kit, they should contact us… We’ll find a way to make sure that they can vote, but they cannot simply change their mind.”
Elections Canada voting guidelines viewed by Global News said those living abroad may apply anytime, while voters living in Canada have until the Tuesday before election day (Sept. 14), to apply to be on the Register. Once accepted into the Register, Elections Canada said it will mail over a voting kit with “everything they need to vote, including a return envelope with prepaid postage.”
Canadians eligible to vote can apply either online, by calling Elections Canada or in-person at the nearest Elections Canada office. They should be prepared to provide a valid proof of identity and current address.
Elections Canada said they will call applicants if there are any issues with their request.