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Concerns raised about long lines and mask enforcement in Alberta polling stations

Click to play video: 'Concerns over long lines, mask enforcement in Alberta polling stations' Concerns over long lines, mask enforcement in Alberta polling stations
Concerns are being raised about the possibility of long lines and anti-mask disruptions at federal election polling locations in Alberta on Monday. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports. – Sep 19, 2021

Concerns are being raised around buildings across Alberta becoming polling locations come Monday morning when voting for the federal election begins.

“I’m quite worried about what could happen on Monday,” said Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt.

He said there’s been a consolidation of polling stations, which has led to fewer polling locations across Canada than in the 2019 election.

He also wonders who will be enforcing COVID-19 restrictions at polling locations.

“We could have some people showing up and causing a scene at polling stations and deliberately refusing masks and who is responsible for enforcing those mask requirements?” Bratt said.

“Is it the poor deputy returning officer handing out pencils that now has to enforce mandates to maybe a handful of thugs?”

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Read more: Polling stations short on workers as COVID-19 pandemic hinders recruitment

In a statement, Elections Canada said, “There has been increased engagement with local authorities in jurisdictions where monitoring has indicated there may be disturbances at polling stations.”

However, the agency said, “the returning officer does not have the authority to enforce emergency restrictions.”

The Canada Elections Act requires that returning officers and their delegates maintain order inside Elections Canada locations.

The law authorizes a returning officer or other election officer to ask electors who refuse to comply with established rules to leave the office or polling place.

Click to play video: 'Latest polls show Liberals, Conservatives neck-and-neck on eve of 2021 Canada election' Latest polls show Liberals, Conservatives neck-and-neck on eve of 2021 Canada election
Latest polls show Liberals, Conservatives neck-and-neck on eve of 2021 Canada election – Sep 19, 2021

In Alberta, masks are required in all indoor settings pursuant to provincial, local and landlord policy.

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Voters who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons won’t have to wear one, and they will not be asked for proof of medical exemption, except for polling locations in Alberta schools, where proof of exemption is required by the school boards.

“It’s too bad that some people would choose this moment because the federal election is so much more than just you wearing or not wearing a mask,” said Josee Roy, who plans to vote in the riding of Calgary Confederation.

Mount Royal University associate professor Lori Williams said her biggest concerns are that people will be deterred by lineups or by the pandemic.

“We already know there are fewer polling stations and that means there are likely to be longer lines that could deter some people from even going out to vote. So they might be worried about this fourth wave and the danger that it poses to them,” Williams said.

Read more: Numerous ridings in GTA see significant drop in polling stations for upcoming election

“For me, just because I’m a teacher, I don’t have much free time on my hands, so if I had to wait hours and hours to vote, that could dissuade me from voting,” said Dan Doherty, a voter in Calgary Confederation.

Elections Canada said there could be longer lineups to accommodate physical distancing requirements.

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Nationally, there are about 14,300 polling locations for Election Day. That compares to 15,477 polling locations used for the 43rd general election in 2019.

In Calgary, Elections Canada estimates about the same number of polls will be open as in 2019.

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