From Ikea to a horse-racing track, Winnipeg polling stations look different this election

Elections Canada had to find some non-traditional voting locations in Winnipeg for this federal election. The city's Ikea store, local malls, community centres and the Assiniboia Downs race track served as polling stations this year.

Ikea store, local malls, community centres Assiniboia Downs race track among Winnipeg voting locations

The Ikea store in Winnipeg was one of the unusual sites converted into a polling station for the election. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Instead of shopping for furniture or grabbing meatballs, some Winnipeggers were casting ballots at the city's Ikea store on Monday.

The large retailer converted some of its food hall space into a polling station for the 2021 federal election. 

"Too bad I didn't need anything here today — do a little shopping," voter John Mirus said outside the store on Monday, election day in Canada.

The unusual polling station is one sign of how this year's election is different from previous years because of the pandemic.

Elections Canada had to find some non-traditional polling locations large enough to ensure voters could practise physical distancing, after the province said schools could not be used as voting locations, citing concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19.

Local malls, community centres and the Assiniboia Downs race track also served as polling stations this year.

Elections Canada has limited the number of people allowed inside polling stations at one time to ensure adequate physical distancing, which meant more people had to lineup outside than in past elections.

Inside, sanitizing stations were set up at entrance and exit points, plexiglass barriers separated voters from poll workers and frequently touched surfaces were also regularly cleaned.

Voter Donna Hayward stands outside of the Assiniboine Downs polling station in Winnipeg on Monday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Parent Saniya Riyaz said she had no problem making the drive to Ikea to cast her ballot.

"I'd rather vote here than vote at the schools, to be honest right now, during a pandemic. I think it's a safer option."

Several voters CBC spoke with said casting their ballot at Assiniboia Downs was quick and easy. 

But Donna Hayward expressed frustration with the accessibility of the racing track. She uses a walker and struggled with the long walk in and out of the polling station.

"In the polling [station], when you go to mark your ballot, it's so dark I couldn't see," she said.

"So I had to come out where there was light to mark my ballot, and then the walk back, it's very very difficult as someone with disabilities."

21 names on ballot

Meanwhile, in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, the length of the ballot presented a challenge for some.

There were 21 candidates on the ballot — the majority of them independents prompted to put their names forward by Sébastien Corriveau, leader of the satirical Rhinoceros Party.

Corriveau, who lives in Rimouski, Que., told CBC earlier in the month that he was motivated to induce the list after the Liberal Party of Canada failed to follow through on an electoral reform campaign pledge to get rid of the first-past-the-post system.

Voters prepare to cast their ballots on Monday morning at a polling station in Winnipeg. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Mike Wolanik wasn't too appreciative of that Monday morning, when he voted at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, and predicted it would be a big headache for others, too.

"It's going to be a gong show. The ballot's too big. It's too long," he said. "The … [poll worker] had a problem tearing it out of the book — the whole thing was just ripping.

"It's going to be a long day for some people."

The ballot wasn't the only thing that bothered Wolanik. The election as a whole — just two years after the last one — was unnecessary and poorly timed, he said.

"My mind was made up right at the beginning because I didn't think there should be an election when you have a pandemic," he said, adding he went to the polls early Monday so he could clear his day to go fishing.

Victoria Alapa, who was voting in her second-ever election as a Canadian, expected the pandemic would make some nervous about going out to a busy polling station.

Victoria Alapa says she wanted to exercise her right as a citizen to vote, hopefully for the good of the country. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"But it is something that we have to do as a citizen, as a Canadian," she said.

"I want to exercise my right to vote, hopefully for the good of the country. I pray that everything goes well and we appoint a leader that will lead us for the good of everybody, for respect for all and for peace in the land."

Advance voting up

Emmanuel David Kwilukama, who just turned 18 and was voting in his first election, also voted Monday at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre. He said economic and climate plans were the first and foremost issues on his mind.

"Unfortunately, our parents aren't going to be the ones that are going to be dealing with the repercussions of climate change. It's going to be my generation and our kids," the first-year university student said.

Emmanuel David Kwilukama, a first-year university student, voted for the first time on Monday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Another university student who voted Monday said she was frustrated Elections Canada scrapped its on-campus voting program.

Fourth-year University of Winnipeg student Cierra Bettens, who lives in South St. Vital, said she had to hitch a ride to her voting station at Maple Grove Park, fearing it would be dangerous to bike there.

She said she had planned to take the bus, but learned the stations wasn't accessible by Winnipeg Transit.

"To have really the only means of transportation that is safe be car I think is, to me, an act of voter suppression for people who can't get access to it on election day."

Elections Canada spokesperson Marie-France Kenny said she was sorry to hear about the accessibility issues some faced at the polls Monday.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Up To Speed, she said polling stations have to meet accessibility criteria, and most have wheelchairs available and staff to help voters.

"Under the circumstances, I know it's hard for people to hear this, but it was a hard year for our returning officers, and I think they were creative in terms of finding polling locations," she told host Faith Fundal.

Ahead of election day, record numbers of Manitobans already voted in advance polls. Early voter turnout in this federal election is up 57 per cent in the Prairie province compared to 2019, Elections Canada said in a statement on Sept. 14.

About 1.2 million Canadians requested special ballot voting kits as of Sunday, Elections Canada data suggests, enabling them to vote by mail or at a local Elections Canada office. The majority — over one million — live within their own electoral riding. 

During the 2019 election, only about 55,000 Canadian voters opted for mail-in ballots, with the majority going to people living outside of Canada. Only about 5,000 kits went to those who were voting from their own riding, Elections Canada said.

So far this election, over 38,000 Manitobans have requested voter kits, and about 80 per cent of those have gone to people voting from inside their riding. 

The sheer number of mail-in ballots means Canadians may go to bed not knowing the results of the election on Monday night. They might not even know who won by Tuesday morning.

Partitions and hand sanitizer were among Elections Canada's COVID-19 precautions at polling stations. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Elections Canada isn't counting hundreds of thousands of these local special ballots until Tuesday.

These ballots have to go through verifications, including ensuring those who voted by mail didn't also vote in-person on election day.

CBC News will have comprehensive coverage with real-time results, big election night news and analysis about how the vote is unfolding, including how the results will impact Manitobans.

From Ikea to a horse-racing track, Winnipeg polling stations look different this election

1 month ago
The unusual polling stations in Winnipeg are a sign of how this year's election is different from previous years because of the pandemic. 1:27

With files from Rachel Bergen


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