City auditor OKs Elections Calgary’s 2021 plans

Boxes of roughly 75,000 advance votes sit unopened in Elections Calgary's office, pictured on Oct. 13, 2017. Pat Carroll / Global News

The city auditor’s office has given Elections Calgary’s readiness a seal of approval ahead of October’s municipal election.

During the 2017 election, some polling stations in the city saw Calgarians wait up to six hours to cast their ballots.

Some polling stations were understaffed while the city’s audit committee also found that ballots had to be driven around the city.

Election results were also delayed in 2017.

On Wednesday, the audit committee heard a report from the city auditor after reviewing what Elections Calgary has planned to fix those problems.

Part of the review also included reviewing measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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The review found the election administrator used historical and geographical information systems (GIS) data to help ensure a 100 per cent ballot supply at polling stations.

Elections Calgary also used Elections Alberta population data to update boundary lines within wards to create subdivisions of 7,100 voters or less, with voting stations located centrally within those subdivisions. Where possible, those locations are near transit and will allow people to avoid having to cross major intersections or encountering major construction sites.

“We determined Elections Calgary’s plan and documented methodology were effective to meet 100 per cent ballot supply requirements and allocations to voting subdivisions,” the auditor’s report read.

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The municipal elections body used federal election criteria to select 33 advance vote and 186 election day locations, an increase from 2017. Voting hours will also be extended.

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“By increasing the number of voting stations, we are hoping to reduce some of the wait times and some of the challenges that we experienced in 2017,” returning officer Kate Martin said.

“That being said, with COVID-19 being here and with us having the additional safety precautions in place, such as social distancing, such as taking the time to sanitize the equipment… I think it’s possible that we will have some wait times.”

Martin told the committee that more than 3,600 election workers have been hired, surpassing the original goal.

“I’m very confident that we will not only be able to staff our positions but we are also planning to have a contingent of election workers as standby workers,” the returning officer said.

The auditor also reviewed Elections Calgary’s COVID-19 checklist, used to evaluate whether a space is COVID-safe.

The checklist included room capacity, room ventilation, separate entrances/exits, room square footage and size of doorways.

Included in the plans is a way for voters to cast a ballot outside if they don’t want to enter the voting station. In the past, very few voters have opted for this, and Elections Calgary’s plans don’t expect this to be a high-demand option.

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“We identified the risk that changing conditions and restrictions related to COVID-19 could impact demand for this option, and recommended Elections Calgary reforecast expected demand closer to election day to support adjustments to staffing and supplies if needed,” the auditor’s report read.

Elections Calgary’s plans to keep election workers safe through measures like masking, distancing, sanitizer and low-touch points all met the auditor’s satisfaction.

Calgarians elect a new mayor and council on Oct. 18.

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