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'Plan early' when voting Sept. 20, Elections Canada says

There is a chance polling places might be in unusual locations to facilitate COVID-19 health measures.
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An elector arrives at a polling station. ELECTIONS CANADA/Photo

St. Albertans can expect sanitizer and single-use pencils at polls this September.

Elections Canada will be offering a number of safety measures for St. Albertans and Canadians alike who are concerned about voting during the federal election on Sept. 20.

“There will be safety measures in place to protect the health and safety of Canadians, no matter how they choose to vote when the next election takes place,” said Matthew McKenna, media relations and issues management for Elections Canada in an email.

Canadians can expect to see sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, physical distancing markers, mask-wearing poll workers, and single-use pencils to minimize contact points.

“If electors want, they can drop [the pencils] in a designated bag and we will recycle them for future use,” stated McKenna.

Polling stations will be regularly cleaned, and McKenna said they are changing the way poll workers are spread out across voting locations.

“There will now be just one poll worker per desk to ensure proper physical distancing,” he said.

There are a couple of ways St. Albertans can vote this election.

Those in vulnerable populations, in self-isolation due to COVID-19, and those who wish to vote earlier in the election period are welcome to vote by special ballot, which can be either by mail or at a local Elections Canada office.

McKenna is encouraging those who want to vote by mail to apply as soon as possible. This will allow the special ballot voting kit to reach them and also allow for them to return the completed ballot to Elections Canada by election day.

“For those who are concerned about getting their completed [ballot] back on time, they can bring it with them to their assigned poll on election day, and drop it off for counting,” said McKenna.

Early on in Elections Canada’s pandemic planning, they estimated around four to five million electors might choose to vote by mail.

“This high estimate was meant to allow us to improve and test our systems. We are currently reviewing our projections, which we expect to be lower given the evolving public-health situation,” he explained.

Elections Canada is, however, anticipating the majority of electors will cast their vote in person.

“Voting in person during advance polls or on election day remains the simplest and most efficient ways for electors to cast their ballot,” McKenna said.

Elections Canada is expecting it is going to be difficult for Canadians to find the typical 18,000 voting locations used in federal election locations to vote, given the pandemic situation.

“Returning officers have been working to identify polling locations that will be available even during a pandemic and can facilitate physical distancing. This means that polling places may be in unusual locations or slightly further from electors’ homes,” McKenna explained.

All provincial health authorities have been engaged by Elections Canada, and they have reviewed the health and safety plans. McKenna said they have endorsed that landlords can rent to Elections Canada, as a government service.

“In most cases, we are not subject to restrictions related to social events or gatherings. 

“Elections Canada will hold polls wherever there is space, where the public can attend, and where an agreement can be reached with the landlord,” he said.

Elections Canada is encouraging voters to take advantage of online services, to either register to vote or to apply to vote by mail.

“We know that things take a bit longer during the pandemic, so we encourage all voters to plan early, no matter how they decide to vote,” he said.