GTA voters contend with long lines, missing voter lists as election day draws to a close
Many ridings had significantly fewer polling stations than last election
Some frustrated voters at polling stations across the Greater Toronto Area on Monday found themselves dealing with long queues as they attempted to cast their ballots.
Lines outside polling stations, which closed at 9:30 p.m. ET, were longer this year in some cases due to COVID-19 precautions, logistical errors in voter ID cards and lists and a greatly reduced number of polling stations for some ridings.
In some cases, long lines stretched well into the evening.
At a polling station in King-Vaughan, voters reported a lineup of more than two hours and very little parking.
Aaron Kaufman, who lives in the area, said he gave up trying to vote because the line was so long and he had trouble finding parking shortly before 8 p.m. He never got out of his car but rolled down his window. People on the sidewalk told him not to bother trying to vote, he said.
"It was more than a long lineup. It was absolutely ridiculous," Kaufman said after the polls closed on Monday night.
"The lineup for the actual polling station went around a giant sportsplex, across the street, around another building, and down the off ramp to the 400 Highway."
Staff Sgt. Dave Mitchell of York Regional Police said there was a surge of voters at a polling station at 601 Cityview Blvd. in the Teston Road and Highway 400 area near Canada's Wonderland before 8 p.m.
An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people tried to vote at that time, he said.
Mitchell said some people, in an effort to find parking, were getting out of their vehicles on the off ramp of Highway 400 at Teston Road and walking up on the ramp.
Long lineups to vote at some polling stations in Toronto, including this one in Spadina — Fort York but Elections Canada says those in line before polls close (9:30 pm ET) will be able to vote! All it takes is patience. <a href="https://t.co/7hOMcVdnqB">pic.twitter.com/7hOMcVdnqB</a>—@thomasdaigle
Kaufman said the experience left him angry. Not enough planning and thought went into the logistics of voting, he said.
"It's unacceptable, to be honest in a country like ours, the organization around voting was so poor that people couldn't even make their voice heard."
King-Vaughan had 28 fewer polling locations than in 2019, which was a 62 per cent drop in locations.
Earlier Monday at the Bentway polling station for Spadina-Fort York, voters lined up for about an hour or more before they got in, but the balmy weather helped keep frustrations at bay.
"It's fine, I was able to take some work calls in line, [it's] not too bad. The weather's pretty nice, been waiting for about an hour," one voter at the Bentway polling station said.
"We're all outside, so that makes me feel good. People are reasonable."
Some ridings have fewer polling stations this year
It's important to note that some electoral districts in the Greater Toronto Area have remarkably fewer polling stations than they did in the 2019 federal election.
Toronto Centre had 91 in 2019, and has 15 polling stations this year. Spadina-Fort York had 56, but has 15 today. Those are the two ridings with the largest decrease in polling stations at 84 per cent and 73 per cent fewer than the last election, respectively.
Long lines at this Parkdale-High Park polling station. <a href="https://t.co/EL41JT3P0v">pic.twitter.com/EL41JT3P0v</a>—@PatMorrell_CBC
In York Region, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill went from 39 to 12, and in Peel Region, Brampton East and Mississauga-Malton are down to 12 and 15 stations from 26 and 31, respectively, in 2019.
Elections Canada website errors
Several people also reported being unable to locate their polling station on the Elections Canada website Monday.
"A message comes up saying they aren't able to find my polling station," Daniel Mustard said. "It then asks you to call a 1-800 number to speak to an agent, but when I did that the agency also can't find the address."
"I'm lucky as I have all day to figure this out and vote. Others who may not be as keen might give up at this point," Mustard added.
Others who chose to vote by mail were experiencing similar frustrations. Barbara Allemeersch said she only received her ballot on Friday afternoon and was questioning whether her returned vote will be received in time. Mail-in votes had to be received by 6 p.m. Monday.
Elections Canada responded on Twitter to the numerous complaints and concerns of voters being unable to find their polling station.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Election44?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Election44</a> line up stretching down the block around the corner and down another block. Pack your patience friends and vote <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/vote?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#vote</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/VoterTurnout?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#VoterTurnout</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#cdnpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanadaElection2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CanadaElection2021</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Canada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanadaVotes?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CanadaVotes</a> <a href="https://t.co/FYWQoRDPNe">pic.twitter.com/FYWQoRDPNe</a>—@natalie_kalata
"Please note that we are experiencing technical difficulties with the Voter Information Service application on our website," the agency said in a tweet on Monday morning. "Please check your voter information card or call us at 1-800-463-6868 to find your assigned polling location."
A couple of hours later that was followed by a tweet saying the online information system was back online.
Elderly, people with disabilities face obstacles
Meanwhile, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities also said they believe there could have been a drop in voter turnout in their communities this year due to accessibility issues and a lack of aid available due to the pandemic.
Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors' advocacy organization, said while Elections Canada had done as "much as possible" this year to ensure seniors were provided for at polling stations, "that doesn't mean that seniors are able to get to polling stations easier."
Many community and aid organizations, as well as political parties, were not offering seniors transport to polling stations this year due to the pandemic, she said. That, coupled with the fact that many seniors are reluctant to enter large group settings right now, will likely mean a drop in older voters this year, Tamblyn Watts said.
"Eighty per cent of all seniors vote in every election, but I think this year the barriers to voting are so significant that we will see a shift in voting patterns," she said.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, said it could be a similar story for his community.
Lepofsky, who is blind, said Canada had "never had properly accessible elections for Canadians with disabilities," and this year was no exception.
"The private, secret ballot is a sacred thing. The ability to mark your own ballot in private and not to have to tell anyone else who you've voted for and to be able to verify that it's been marked correctly is fundamental to a democracy and yet as a blind person, I don't have that right in Canada," he said.
Lepofsky said accessibility was not considered by Elections Canada at polling stations. While mail-in votes offered an alternative, many still relied on loved ones to fill out their ballots for them.
"If people have any disability that relates to marking your own ballet, if it's a paper ballot, you've got a terrible choice: either go to a polling station where you face barriers or use a mail-in ballot where you face barriers."
"For any number of people with disabilities in Canada we do not have barrier-free, accessible voting and we do not have a plan in place to get us there."
With files from Ali Raza, Ashleigh Stewart, Muriel Draaisma and Chris Glover