Mummers, potato sacks and clown masks: Why people are voting in silly face coverings

Voters, some upset over this election's niqab debate, have been turning up at advance polling stations in Quebec and Newfoundland, ready to cast ballots while clad in outrageous costumes and masks.

Some upset over niqab debate that has dominated run-up to the election

Jon Keefe voted in St. John's while dressed as a mummer. He did so to protest the hype over the niqab debate. He calls it a 'non-issue' and says he wanted to celebrate the right to vote with a covered face. (Submitted by Jon Keefe)

Voters have been turning up at advance polling stations in Quebec and Newfoundland over the past two days, ready to cast ballots while clad in outrageous costumes and masks.

Under Elections Canada rules, electors are allowed to vote while wearing a face covering as long as they take an oath attesting they are eligible and provide two pieces of ID, one which includes a current address.

A handful of voters — some of whom are upset over the niqab debate that has dominated the run-up to the election — have shown up dressed as ghosts, clowns and even mummers; a traditional costume in Newfoundland. 

Nathalie de Montigny, an Elections Canada spokeswoman, confirmed to CBC News that as long as they follow the rules, any elector can vote while wearing a mask, no matter how ridiculous. 

"A face covering is a face covering, it does not matter what it is," she said.

It's not clear how many have dressed up. Elections Canada records how many people take an oath, but not why. (There are many possible reasons.) 

Politicizing face masks

Some are making a statement about the debate over the niqab, which has divided parties and become a defining issue during this election campaign.

Jon Keefe, who runs a small business in St. John's, was upset over the large role the niqab has played in the election.

Keefe had to leave his 'ugly stick' at the door. The homemade musical instrument is popular in mummer tradition. (Courtesy of Jon Keefe)
He told CBC News he thought the debate was a "manufactured non-issue" and wanted to do something about it.

When he realized he didn't need to show his face to vote, he put out a call on Facebook to rally people to vote "in true Newfoundland style" — as a mummer. 

The post prompted cheers from many, and confusion from those who thought Keefe was making light of the niqab issue. 

Mummering is an Christmas tradition in Newfoundland where people dress up in strange costumes and travel between houses for dancing and drinks. The tradition plays a large role in the province's culture — there's even a popular Mummers Festival in December that has its own parade.

"It seemed like a great way to work in the point that there are already a lot of cultural customs across Canada that might seem bizarre or unusual to people unfamiliar with them, but we've all managed to get along pretty well so far," said Keefe.

He cast his vote in the St. John's East riding on Saturday in what he calls "standard mummering attire" — florescent yellow leggings, a floral dress, sunglasses and a face mask covered in schooners.

But he had to leave his "ugly stick" — a homemade musical instrument made famous by mummers — at the door. 

"The election staff mistakenly thought I was obliged to show my face at first, but I explained to them that it wasn't required," he said.

"They verified it on their end, and everything went smoothly after that."

Two Quebec voters showed up to vote at advance polls on Friday in masks. Rafik Hanna voted in a clown costume in Dorval, Que. while an unidentified woman wearing a potato sack on her head got to cast her ballot in Cap-Rouge, near Quebec City. (Courtesy of Rafik Hanna/CBC News)

Clowns, ghosts and a potato sack

Rafik Hanna donned a full clown costume while voting in Dorval, Que., a suburb of Montreal, in order to make a statement about the current voting laws.

"Truly sad that I can vote to elect a Canadian prime minister without having to show my face and prove my identity," he said.

For others, it wasn't as clear as why they wore masks to the polls.

An unidentified voter in Gatineau, Que. heads to the polls in a ghost costume. He didn't specify why he was wearing the face covering. (CBC News)

One man dressed up as a ghost at a Gatineau, Que. polling station, but opted to show his face instead of taking an oath. He was able to follow regular voting procedures.

A woman showed up at a polling station in Cap-Rouge, near Quebec City, wearing a potato sack on her head.

The image of her was widely shared on social media, where it got the meme treatment. She was able to vote after taking the oath and showing her ID.