How will COVID-19 change voting in Canada? Your questions answered

Canada’s 44th federal election is happening as cases of the delta variant of COVID-19 continue to spread. Here’s what health experts say about voting safely.

Health experts say the federal election can happen safely with the right protocols

A voter marks their ballot on election day in 2015. This fall, polling stations will have sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, physical distancing markers, poll workers wearing masks, and single-use pencils, according to Elections Canada. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

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Canada's first federal election during the COVID-19 pandemic is one month away. Voters from across the country have written to us to express their concerns about vaccination rates, the delta variant and how to stay safe at the polls.

From millions of single-use pencils to mandatory masks, here's how the pandemic has changed voting in this election.

What health protocols will be in place?

Elections Canada said voters can expect to see sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, physical distancing markers, poll workers wearing masks, and single-use pencils to minimize contact points at polling stations.

You will have the option to drop your pencil in a designated bag and Elections Canada will recycle it for future use (the agency has secured around 16 million of them). If you prefer, you can bring your own pen or pencil.

Surfaces will be cleaned every 30 to 60 minutes and there will be only one poll worker at each desk, seated behind a plexiglass barrier. Elections Canada will provide free masks at polling stations and voters will be required to wear masks unless they have a medical exemption. 

It won't be mandatory for poll workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said he expects a large number will be vaccinated.

"Our poll workers will be at least as vaccinated as the general population," Perrault said.

WATCH | Elections chief says voting will be safe despite no mandatory vaccines:

Elections chief says vaccine not mandatory for poll workers

1 year ago
Duration 1:21
Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault says voting in the federal election will be safe despite the lack of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine rule.

Is it safe to hold an election in a pandemic?

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said a combination of health protocols and Canada's high rate of vaccination can protect voters.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Zain Chagla agrees. He said measures like mail-in voting could keep the election safe and added that using outdoor facilities would reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

  • Use Vote Compass to compare the party platforms with your views.

"It would be ideal if it's outdoors," said Chagla, who is co-medical director of infection control and an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.

"If you're going to use indoor settings like schools or gymnasiums, then I think it's important that masking be used."

While campaign events may take place outside, there are no plans to have outdoor polling stations on Sept. 20. Elections Canada said workers will keep doors and windows open, where possible, to "reduce touch points and encourage air circulation."

A man leaves a polling station after casting his ballot on federal election day in 2019. This fall, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, voters must wear masks unless they have a medical exemption, according to Elections Canada. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

What about the delta variant?

The pandemic's fourth wave has been fuelled by the delta variant, but Chagla said voters can mitigate risk by being aware of conditions that cause the virus to spread quickly.

"People who are in prolonged indoor settings, in close contact, particularly unmasked, tend to be at higher risk than other settings," Chagla said.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Brian Conway told CBC News voting at polling stations won't pose the same risk.

"This is small numbers of people together for a very short period of time," said Conway, who is medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre. "We think that's going to be very safe."

  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.

Chagla's advice before you head to the polls: get vaccinated, wear a mask and be prepared to wait outside due to limited capacity in polling stations.

Should I vote by mail to be safer?

Tam has said voters should cast mail-in ballots only if they feel they are at risk, but in-person voting can be done safely.

Chagla said mail-in voting is a good option for people who are more vulnerable to infection, including unvaccinated individuals, people on immunosuppressive medication and the elderly.

"It is safer," Chagla said.

WATCH | Dr. Zain Chagla on voting by mail and voting in person:

Infectious diseases specialist evaluates your voting options

1 year ago
Duration 0:55
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, says options like voting by mail and advance polls can help keep the federal election safe for Canadian voters.

If you want to vote by mail, you should plan to do so early. Your special ballot will need to get to Elections Canada by 6 p.m. ET on Sept. 20 — or it won't be counted.

Read more about how to vote by mail.

Do you have a question about the federal election? Send it to ask@cbc.ca or leave it in the comments. We're answering as many as we can leading up to election day.



Avneet Dhillon is a multi-platform journalist with CBC News based in Toronto.

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