Saskatoon councillors vote to relax mail-in ballot rules due to COVID-19 concerns

Saskatoon city councillors have voted in favour of relaxing rules to make voting by mail easier this year.

Anyone wanting to vote by mail will be allowed to register online

Saskatoon city councillors have voted in favour of relaxing rules around mail-in ballots for this year's civic election. (CBC)

Saskatoon city councillors have voted in favour of relaxing rules to make voting by mail easier in this year's civic election.

Current rules say anyone wanting to vote by mail in a civic election in Saskatoon must apply in-person to the city's election office.

At a committee meeting on Monday, city administration recommended the rules be changed to allow people to apply for a mail-in ballot online.

"We want to limit in-person application to ensure the safety of both election officials and the voter," said Saskatoon returning officer Scott Bastian. 

"We also want to allow voters the ability to apply on their own timelines."

The online registration would require a designated witness to sign a declaration, as well as copies of identification bearing a signature, like a driver's license.

The rule changes also make it possible for elections workers to start feeding the ballots into vote counting machines on the first business day after advance polls close, as long as more than 100 mail-in ballots are received. The vote tally would not be known until regular counting begins.

The elections team is talking to other cities across the province to create consistent rules.

Fraud concerns

Some councillors said they were worried about the relaxed rules leading to potential fraud.

"I think there are going to be too many opportunities for potential voter fraud with the relaxing of some of the rules," said councillor Darren Hill.

The returning officer said the city does not maintain a voters list like is traditionally used in provincial and federal elections, where a name could be crossed off if someone voted through mail-in ballot.

Bastian said the city would investigate any reports of fraud, but only if an allegation was made to them.

Mail-in ballots would be sent to voters after nominations close, likely by Oct. 9. The ballots would need to be received by the city by election day on Monday, November 9.

Provisions may also be made for people who cannot leave their home due to medical reasons.

The decision to change the election rules still must be ratified at the next city council meeting on Monday.