New Brunswick

Voters express concern over sanitation, accessibility at returning office

Elections New Brunswick has been urging voters to head to the polls early, but two say their experience was not as safe and accessible as they’d hoped. 

‘I don't need to have any extra problems in my life and I don't want COVID’

Nancy O'Brian and Glen Spence say their experience at a returning office in Riverview was upsetting. (Submitted by Glen Spence)

Elections New Brunswick has been urging voters to head to the polls early, but two voters say their experience was not as safe and accessible as they'd hoped. 

Glen Spence and Nancy O'Brian, who live together, went to a returning office at the Riverview Shopping Mall on Thursday afternoon to vote. 

Spence and O'Brian, who's a nurse, have been limiting their outings and contact with people to avoid COVID-19.

Spence has a twisted arm and requires a leg and ankle brace. He uses a cane to walk.

He thought it would be easier for him to vote in advance. The returning office wasn't crowded, so they decided to seize the opportunity. 

Elections New Brunswick started a campaign last month to urge voters to head to the polls early to avoid long lineups on election day, Sept. 14, and also to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Hand sanitizer is shown at an advance polling station on Saturday. (Radio-Canada)

As Spence and O'Brian waited in line, six feet apart from everyone else, they noticed one of the workers inside the returning office wasn't wearing a mask.

O'Brian asked another worker why that was. She said nothing was done about it, and the worker who wasn't wearing a mask cut in and out of the voting line less than a metre away from voters.

"We were there to be protected and safe and it wasn't any comfort at all to have somebody right beside you," Spence said. 

"I don't need to have any extra problems in my life and I don't want COVID."

Spence and O'Brian were told that any markers and pens they used would be wiped down, but they said they didn't see any disinfectant nearby. People also weren't following the arrows on the floor either, they said. 

Voters can choose to wear a mask inside the voting area, but it's not required. (Radio-Canada)

Of the five workers at the returning office, only one was properly wearing a mask, they said. 

It's mandatory for workers to wear a mask inside the returning office, although they're allowed to take it off when they're not dealing with a voter, said Paul Harpelle, a communications officer with Elections New Brunswick.

Harpelle said Elections New Brunswick will speak to the returning office at the Riverview Shopping Mall before the second day of advance voting on Tuesday. 

He couldn't say whether a worker inside the polling office could be exempt from wearing a mask for medical reasons. 

Returning office causes problems for disabled

O'Brian waited at the exit for Spence after she cast her ballot. She said the door was not disinfected in between uses. 

"It's not like there's a wheelchair button that you could press with your elbow to get out. You actually have to physically open the door, and risk being contaminated," she said. 

Elections New Brunswick said high-contact surfaces must be frequently cleaned according to the instructions it has received from Public Health. That doesn't necessarily mean after every use — it could mean after every 15 to 30 minutes. 

With his disabilities, Spence sometimes struggles to open doors.

"I have one arm that's twisted up and if I tried to pull on especially heavy doors, it's a very painful experience."

Spence said he had to hook his cane through the door handle and use his hands to pull on his cane to open the door. Without his cane on the ground, he risks falling over. 

"That's not right," he said. "Polls are supposed to be accessible to people with disabilities and it wasn't."

Harpelle said Elections New Brunswick has had a few issues with polling stations not offering the level of accessibility it aims for. Some locations it traditionally uses aren't available because of the pandemic.

Voters can also ask for curbside voting if the building is not accessible for their disability, Harpelle said. 

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