Ontario election will include easier mail-in balllots, more advance voting days

With voters heading to the polls in June for Ontario’s first general election of the COVID-19 era, Elections Ontario says it is ready to hold a vote where everyone will feel safe to cast a ballot.

“What we really want to assure Ontarians is they can come and exercise their right to vote in a very safe, efficient fashion, and one that they can have confidence in, that meets all of our electoral standards,” Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa told CP24 Wednesday.

Voters are set to head to the polls in the first week of June.

Most health restrictions have already lifted in Ontario and transmission of COVID-19 tends to decrease in warmer months. However there are still many people who may be concerned about going to a polling station because they are susceptible to the virus, immunocompromised or cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

Essensa said voters can expect to see health measures in place that are similar to what they currently see at grocery stores or pharmacies.

“We will have physical distancing, and all the polls will have the signage on the floors,” he said. “We’ll have the partitions between the voter and the electoral worker. We’ve secured enough masks that if anyone wants a mask, whether it’s a voter or an election worker, they can have it. We have hand sanitizers, we have wipes to wipe down all the high touch point areas.”

He said Elections Ontario has been “meeting regularly” with Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore to prepare for the election and all of the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is already on its way to returning officers.

There will also be 10 days of advance voting for the upcoming election — double the previous number — so that those who wish to vote when polls are less crowded can do so.

Essensa said the move will also allow returning officers to cover a wider area.

“Why I’m excited about this is it allows the local returning officer to move some of the poles around during that 10-day period,” he said. “So perhaps in the larger geographic ridings, we might have a poll in one area for three days and then move it to another area for four days.”

For those who don’t feel comfortable voting in person at all, mail-in ballots will be an option and voters will have until May 27 to request one. Mail-in voting kits include a postage-paid return envelope which must arrive back to Elections Canada by 6 p.m. on Election Day. The kits can be requested online starting May 4.

Essensa noted that the federal election last September saw an explosion of mail-in voting, with more than 700,000 ballots cast by mail, nearly half of them in Ontario. That compares to roughly 55,000 ballots cast by mail in the 2019 federal election.

“We have completely overhauled our vote by mail process,” Essensa said, noting officials expect similar demand for the provincial election. “So now the application process is very intuitive, very easy.”

He encouraged anyone planning to vote by mail to request a ballot early so as to leave themselves plenty of time to receive the kit and return it.

As a pilot project this year, Elections Ontario has also launched an app which lets voters choose how to receive voting information. Users can opt to receive information about polling stations by text or email instead of or in addition to traditional posted mail.

The app can also be used to generate an electronic voter information card, which can be used as a piece of identification when voters head to the polls.

“So there’s really truly this election, more choice, more days, more ways than ever for an Ontarian to exercise the right to vote,” Essensa said.

Full voter information can be found on the Elections Ontario website.

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