Advice for voters on the eve of election day: A Q&A with Elections Canada spokesperson Diane Benson

TORONTO — CTV News Channel’s Lois Lee interviewed Diane Benson, spokesperson at Elections Canada, about tomorrow’s federal election.  Benson answered questions on reduced polling stations, how students can vote, and other challenges facing voters in a pandemic election. The transcript has been edited for grammar and brevity.

LEE: We’ve been repeating this over and over again, but it really will be an election like no other because of the pandemic. So, how do you expect the voting turnout will look this year?

BENSON: Well we don’t predict turnout, because it’s really up to voters. So that’s their choice. Our role is to make sure that they have the information they need about where and when to vote and to bring the right ID and to do all that But the turnout is is up to voters, it’s an individual choice.

LEE: Part of turnout though depends on where people can vote the accessibility to getting to the polling stations themselves, in Ontario, in particular, there has been a drop in election day polling stations, more than half in 11 GTA ridings are gone. Can you explain why that is?

BENSON: For sure, it is because of COVID protocols. So a lot of the places especially in downtown urban core areas … like in an apartment building, and a condo and all of the people in there could vote there, we can’t do that this time around because it won’t meet COVID protocols. So it’s often been that the returning officers in that riding have had to find a place that is bigger that allows that physical distancing, so those electors might have to go a little bit farther and we recognize that. But once they get there, what we’ve tried to do is make sure there are more voting stations, so that they can be processed quickly.

LEE: So more voting stations within an actual polling station.

BENSON: Yes

LEE: So, I guess in that way, that’s how you’re saying that things are going to balance out. In terms of questions that you’re getting from voters, are you getting a lot of people confused and really needing more guidance in terms of understanding where they need to go, how they’re going to vote this year?

BENSON:  Well I think that what we are trying to do when we do hear from voters or when we talk, you know, about what to be ready for on election day, is that one of the first things that you should do is make sure you know where you’re going to vote. Because just what we’re talking about, those locations may have changed, people have this sense that they’ll go to the familiar place, the local school the local community centre, and those places might not have been available to us to lease this time around to make a polling location. So one of the things we really are emphasizing to people is before you go if you got that voter information card, have a look at that. If you can’t find the card because that happens, too, just take your postal code in on the website, and it will say ‘here is where you are to vote.’ So we do, you know want electors to be aware that maybe they just need to check a few things before they go so they don’t get frustrated when they go to the polling station.

LEE: Another group that has been always been a focus during elections is the youth vote. Really encouraging younger voters to get out there, make their voices heard. Polling stations are no longer going to be set up at Canadian universities though, so given that population has a lot of people who do you want to vote, what’s being done to encourage them to get out and vote and accommodate  them?

BENSON: Well I think what you’re describing is this program called Vote On Campus which we started in 2015 as a pilot project, it went really well. We put into place in more universities in 2019, it was never in every post-secondary institution. And when COVID happened, and we were trying to plan in a pandemic and the universities weren’t sure what was going to be happening with students being back on campus or not, it presented real challenges to try and secure space, to secure the staff, when we didn’t know when the vote was going to happen. So what we’ve done instead and we’re committed to having that program back for the next election for sure.

But what we did this time is that in those ridings where there’s a university, the returning officers worked really hard to try to put a polling place near a university or post secondary campus. So that at least the students might be able to walk there, they wouldn’t have to go too far, and we really encourage them to, you know, go online, call the returning office we have a special site on the website just for students, because we know it’s a little bit different for them. They have different challenges, because they were away at a different address they have a different ID they have to prove, so we did try to push out all that information so they had it. And then to try to put a place as close as possible, so that they would find the polling place that could they could get to tomorrow.

LEE: We know a lot of people were mailing in their ballots voting early. How do you expect that’s going to change? When should we expect the results of this election?

BENSON: Well we’ve tried to be clear and I think everybody knows this is a little bit different election and we thought that maybe more people would vote by what’s called special ballot. Even people that were in their own riding and could go to a polling place at the advanced polls on election day, if they decided to vote by special ballot — they call it the mail in ballot often — that the counting of those in the local returning office cannot happen on election night.

We have to wait until the next day to do a series of verifications of those mail ballots, special ballots, to check and make sure. One of the examples of the verifications is to make sure nobody went in and tried to vote on election day. So, that verification is going to take about 24 hours. But what we think will happen is the counts will happen on Tuesday and into Wednesday.

So even for those special ballots where we won’t know until a day or two after that, it’s going to happen in fairly short order, in most places, through Tuesday and Wednesday.

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