VANCOUVER – Election administrators in British Columbia are ready with hand sanitizer for voters and personal protective equipment for polling station workers as part of a pandemic plan similar to the one recently used in New Brunswick.
Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said staff have consulted with their counterparts in the eastern province, where voters were the first in Canada to cast their votes during COVID-19, should Prime Minister John Horgan call fall elections.
Watson said election administrators in Saskatchewan are preparing for a vote to take place on Oct. 26, adding that his office began working with provincial health officials in April as the reality of a pandemic loomed. and a possible choice.
In addition to purchasing security items, ensuring that physical distancing protocols are followed has been part of the training of election officials, he said.
New Brunswick Elections spokesman Paul Harpelle said public health measures worked well at the polls on Sept. 14 and the province saw a significant increase in mail-in ballots, but the agency does not yet have a breakdown. of the figures.
Administrators in British Columbia and across the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic.
That is an option often used by voters who will be absent during an election and has been available in British Columbia since 1988, Watson said.
“But for a pandemic election, to ensure accessibility, it will be an option for any eligible voter who wants to request a vote-by-mail package,” he said, adding that mail-in ballots accounted for about one percent of ballots in past elections. .
“Based on survey research we’ve done during our planning, that number could be as high as 35%.”
A federal election is also possible this fall if the throne speech set for Wednesday is not supported by opposition leaders in a vote of confidence.
Elections Canada says on its website that the agency is developing plans to protect the health and safety of the public, thousands of poll workers, candidates and their staff in preparation for a possible fall election.
It says that recommendations to Parliament could include a two-day weekend voting period, rather than the usual single day to facilitate physical distancing, and that vote-by-mail ballots will be accepted until the day after the vote of the Weekend.
“In addition to collaborating with national and provincial health officials, Elections Canada will ask scrutineers to engage with local health officials to offer services that are aligned with the reality of their region,” he says.
For candidates, elections without kissing babies, speaking at boisterous demonstrations or knocking on doors will mean different ways to campaign during a pandemic.
Hamish Telford, an assistant professor of political science at Fraser Valley University east of Vancouver, said candidates would have to do more to expand their reach by phone and social media.
Televised debates by party leaders are likely to continue, but meetings of all candidates limited to 50 people by public health guidelines may not be worth it, he said.
Telford said that while voting at the polls will be similar to precautions taken when shopping, turnout may be low and few people may opt for ballots by mail as COVID-19 cases rise in BC.
“Many people are concerned about more pressing issues: their health, their work, the education of their children. And they are worried and wary of going out in public, ”he said.
“We know there are more older people who tend to vote than younger people and I think older people are more concerned about COVID than younger people and that could keep older people away from the polls.”
Sonia Furstenau, the new leader of the Green Party, has said that a power-sharing agreement with the NDP after the last elections that allowed Horgan to form a minority government has the necessary stability during the pandemic. She said a fall election would be irresponsible.
Horgan said Thursday that he had not made a decision on an election. He has said that the Green Party with which he signed an agreement three years ago has changed and that the document does not mention any pandemics.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 20, 2020.
Camille Bains, Canadian Press