Voting will likely take longer than expected on Monday in the Sept. 20 federal election, an expert is warning Canadians less than a week before they go to the polls.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the electoral process more complicated, according to John Beebe, director of the democratic engagement exchange in the faculty of arts at Ryerson University.
“We should all expect that things may look a little different,” Beebe said on Tuesday.
Beebe said it took the average voter about seven minutes to cast a ballot in the 2019 federal election. Voting used to be a relatively simple process in Canada, he added.
“This time, it’s probably going to take a bit longer and I think it’s going to be highly variable by location,” Beebe said. “Some places, it continues to be super easy. And some places are seeing much longer lines.”
In some ridings, enough polling station workers may have been hired and there may be better access to polling locations. That might not be the case in other ridings, he said.
Elections Canada has told CBC News that 11 Greater Toronto Area ridings will see fewer than half the number of polling stations open on election day this year than they did in 2019 because the agency has had difficulties finding sites with room for voters to physically distance.
The likelihood that voting will take longer in some ridings doesn’t surprise Beebe.
“It points to some of the challenges Elections Canada is facing. They’re being asked to pull off an election, during a pandemic, in the shortest possible time allowed by law, just five weeks,” Beebe noted.
“They’ve had a hard time recruiting staff; they’ve had a hard time finding polling locations, and so, we’re seeing the consequences of that now.”
Beebe said Elections Canada is still hiring workers for voting day. About 250,000 people are needed and they will need training.
He said voters should be patient, perhaps bring water and be prepared to chat with others in line on Monday.
“Let’s understand that everybody is trying to do the best they can under challenging situations, like we’re all doing with the pandemic.”
Voting in advance polls 18% higher than 2019
According to preliminary figures from Elections Canada, about 5.7 million people voted in advance polls, held on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday — an 18 per cent increase from the 4.8 million who voted in advance in the 2019 general election.
The suggestion to pack patience comes after reports by voters themselves of long lines at advance polling stations on the weekend in Toronto.
Stephanie Thompson, a Toronto resident who lives in the riding of Parkdale-High Park, said she lined up at an advance polling station in a Parkdale branch of the Toronto Public Library on Queen Street West on Sunday and had to wait nearly an hour to cast her vote.
The line, involving about 20 people, moved a little at first then promptly stopped for 45 minutes. “Everything is backed up,” she said voters were told repeatedly.
“I wanted to vote ahead of time because I knew that the schools were not hosting voting sessions and that it was probably going to be quite busy next Monday. I knew the lineups would most likely be even longer so I did it anyway,” she said.
“I mean I got to know the people in line around me kind of well. There were a couple of ladies who could not stand for too long so we were trying to get them chairs,” she said. “Otherwise, it was a little bit frustrating but understandable.”
“Maybe bring a book with you, or get a podcast going on your phone. Bring some water. Just plan your time wisely because you may be there for much longer than you think.”
Expect health, safety measures to be in place
Elections Canada said health and safety measures will be in place and voters can expect to see sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, physical distancing markers, poll workers wearing masks, and single-use pencils to minimize contact points at polling stations.
Surfaces will be cleaned frequently and there will be only one poll worker at each desk, seated behind a Plexiglas barrier. Elections Canada will provide free masks at polling stations, and unless voters have a medical exemption, they will be required to wear masks.
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