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Voters could see longer wait at polls amid COVID-19, staff shortage: Elections Canada

Click to play video: 'Canada election: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls' Canada election: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls
WATCH ABOVE: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls – Sep 10, 2021

The voting agency in charge of carrying out the country’s federal election says that wait times at the polls may be longer than anticipated over a lack of workers as well as stringent COVID-19 measures.

The warning comes just days ahead of the federal vote set for next Monday, with Elections Canada preparing for a historic national vote amid the pandemic.

In a statement to Global News on Thursday, Elections Canada said they recently reached just over 80 per cent of the total recruitment needed to staff polling stations across the country.

“If we are short of some workers, it may lead to slightly longer waits at the polls,” read the statement.

Read more: ‘A bit of relief’: Voters highlight flaws and benefits of advance election polls

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The agency also said they had to ensure COVID-19 protocols like outside line-ups, physical distancing and a one-way traffic through polling stations would be in place — which could also slow down the voting process.

While a longer wait may be the case at many polling places across Canada, the number of people showing up in person to vote on Election Day may not be as plentiful as expected.

Elections Canada estimated that roughly 5.8 million Canadians voted in advance this past weekend, setting a new record. The number marks an 18.5 per cent increase from the 2019 election, which saw 4.9 million vote ahead of time.

Those numbers do no include special mail-in or returning office ballots, with the agency telling Global News that the process to count those final votes could take as long as two to five days after the election.

Click to play video: 'Poll worker safety concerns rise due to lack of mandatory vaccinations' Poll worker safety concerns rise due to lack of mandatory vaccinations
Poll worker safety concerns rise due to lack of mandatory vaccinations – Aug 16, 2021

Elections Canada previously acknowledged a strong turnout at the advance polls, which were held between Sept. 10-13, and said that there “may” have been lineups at several locations.

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Some advance voters did describe long wait times that sometimes stretched hours when asked by Global News this week. But others said the process felt a lot closer to normal than anticipated.

“It’s nice they went the extra steps to make sure it felt safe,” said Tamara Hinz, a child psychiatrist out of Saskatoon, Sask., in an interview.

“It was a great experience — painless and quick.”

Read more: Anger over pandemic election rises as some Canadians feel unsafe voting in person: poll

Some parts of the country, including the Greater Toronto Area, have seen a reduction in the number of polling stations compared to past elections.

Due to the pandemic, Elections Canada also opted in 2020 not to offer polling at universities and colleges, citing a lack of clear information at the time and uncertainty about whether students would be allowed on campus.

Ipsos polling has suggested about a quarter of Canadians feel it is unsafe to be voting in person in the midst of the pandemic.

Only 16 per cent of those surveyed said they will vote by mail in this election, while 21 per cent said they are unsure whether they will cast a ballot by mail or in person. Just two per cent said they are considering not voting at all.

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— With files from Ahmar Khan

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