Egan: Short-staffed, COVID conscious, Monday’s vote could be a slow go

Elections are about bringing people together, COVID is about keeping people apart — so Monday’s vote could make for a long, slow day, with weird hiccups no one can predict.

Article content

Elections are about bringing people together, COVID is about keeping people apart — so Monday’s vote could make for a long, slow day with weird hiccups no one can predict.


Article content

Staffing and location are emerging as two factors that could conspire to create longer lineups this time as masked armies, cards in hand, congregate in single file to make a little X.

Elections Canada reports it deliberately reduced the number of workers needed from 250,000 to 230,000 for this snap election, but is now concerned it won’t meet the lower target.

The latest available figures (from last week) indicate about 80 per cent of the ideal workforce was on board, though more hiring is being done right to the eve of the election.

Spokesperson Diane Benson says shortfalls vary from region to region across Canada.

“In general, I think things are still pretty good in the Ottawa region, but would they still be happy to hear from more people? I think so.”


Article content

There are also a couple of extra steps this time that will undoubtedly slow things down: People will be asked to sanitize their hands and stop at a station to provide a name and telephone number for contact tracing.

It’s also apparent that voters should be prepared to wait outdoors as there typically isn’t enough indoor space for dozens to line up two metres apart. Benson said a number of schools couldn’t be used this time because of pandemic-inspired restrictions in the education sector.

So, instead of ample-spaced gymnasiums, some polling stations have moved to much smaller community centres with only modest-sized or non-existent waiting areas.

And there are fewer polling stations. While the national number is falling from 15,477 to about 14,300 this time, the decrease is reflected in local ridings. Ottawa Centre goes from 96 to 79, Orléans from 50 to 30 and Ottawa South from 70 to 53.


Article content

(Benson cautions that, while there may be fewer sites, some are substantially bigger than in previous elections.)

Elections Canada numbers for advance polls for the eight Ottawa ridings, this year vs. 2019. (Graph: Postmedia. Numbers from Election Canada)
Elections Canada numbers for advance polls for the eight Ottawa ridings, this year vs. 2019. (Graph: Postmedia. Numbers from Election Canada) jpg

The shifting conditions for this vote are, no doubt, part of the explanation for a massive increase in advance poll numbers. Elections Canada reports about 5.8 million Canadians voted over the four days, an increase of 18.5 per cent from 2019.

(If you add the roughly one million Canadians who voted by mail, it means about one-third of all ballots have been cast before election day.)

Locally, some of the increases are quite dramatic. In Ottawa Centre, for instance, an extra 5,000 voters cast their ballots in advance this time compared to 2019 (28,318 versus 23,268). Similar-sized jumps occurred in every riding in Eastern Ontario.


Article content

Because COVID restrictions have put some of the regular polling stations out of commission, Benson says returning officers have had to be creative.

There is, for instance, a “super poll” in a former warehouse store in Regina, she said, and a funeral home on the east coast that has offered space for voters to pay their democratic respects.

The lesson learned from the advance polls, Benson said, is the tweaked system does work and that, in typical Canadian fashion, voters are patient and accommodating of extra steps (sanitizing, masks, spacing).

The advice from Elections Canada is for voters to try to choose off-peak hours to attend polling stations and come prepared to wait outside. First thing in the morning is often busy, she said, partly because election workers — some doing the job for the first time — may be working the bugs out.


Article content

Citizens should come equipped with proper ID and their voter card, which they should check carefully in case their polling location has changed from 2019.

“I would say there is a good possibility lines may be longer,” Benson said, “but a lot of that has to do with whether we can hire all the people we want to hire.”

Polls in the eastern time zone are open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Should voters still be in line at 9:30 p.m. — even if dozens are ahead of them — the law specifies they must be allowed to cast their ballots.

Benson also stressed that Elections Canada has done a good deal of consultation with public health authorities to ensure that both the stations and the act of voting can be done safely. Certain “high-touch” areas, for instance, will be regularly cleaned throughout the day.

(Interestingly, however, there is no mandatory vaccination requirement for election workers.)

“You should feel confident when you go to a voting place that it’s safe.”

Slow, steady, safe — all sounds so damn Canadian, doesn’t it?

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email kegan@postmedia.com




Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.