Voters waited an average seven minutes to cast their ballot in the last federal election, but they should prepare to stand by a little longer at the polls this time, a democratic engagement expert said.
The high voter turnout at advance polls and mail-in voting, however, could help shrink the lines, Ryerson University’s senior advisor and adjunct professor in democratic engagement exchange John Beebe told CJOB on Thursday.
“We may, in some cases … wait a little, have a chance to chat with your neighbours as you wait in line,” Beebe said.
Elections Canada told CJOB there were 16,982 voting locations across the country in the 2019 federal election, with 69,000 polls. This year, it’s running 14,413 sites with just under 62,000 polls. So far, Elections Canada has hired 90 per cent of the staff it needs — 215,000 poll workers — leaving around 21,500 people who still need to be brought in.
Elections Canada regional director Marie-France Kenny said they’ll be training staff throughout the weekend in preparation for Monday.
Fewer poll workers are working this year as only one person will be assigned to a table instead of two because of social distancing, she said.
Beebe says the agency was asked to do something unprecedented this year in terms of delivering a safe election.
“(Elections Canada was) given the shortest amount of time possible — only 35 days,” he said. “They had originally asked for 50 days, and that would have been the longest time allowed under law, but because they were only given 35 days, we’re seeing some of these challenges now.
“The good news is that at the advance polls, which had the exact same problem — far fewer polling locations — turnout actually went up,” Beebe said. “I’m also hopeful with the advance polls and the mail-in votes that maybe on election day, there’ll be fewer people who may go to show up.
“It’ll be very variable by location, but I think folks need to be prepared for it to take a little longer.”
Engaging with local organizations key to increasing voter turnout: expert
In the 2019 federal election, 67 per cent of eligible Canadians turned out to cast their ballot, leaving more than nine million who didn’t vote.
Beebe says working with local organizations like libraries or those serving new Canadians could convince more people to participate.
“We can do better,” Beebe said. “Those are the trusted local organizations that have those relationships with the first-time, infrequent voters.”
“We need to invest in them to strengthen our democracy.”
Canada works hard to strengthen its public health system, he said, but that same investment is required in those other front-line workers. Beebe also isn’t sure making the voting system more tech-friendly would help attract younger voters, who historically don’t vote at the same rate as the older population.
“It’s not just about making it easier to vote, which is an important element, but it’s also connecting the issues that they care about to the election,” he said. “When it’s relevant, people vote.
“I think it’s more a matter of the politicians and our political leaders speaking to the issues that young people care about in a way that connects with them.”