Elections chief says voting will be safe despite lack of mandatory vaccine rule for poll workers
Stephane Perrault has said that it could take days for election result to be determined
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Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault is assuring Canadians that voting in the federal election will be safe despite Elections Canada's decision to not require the more than 250,000 polling officers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
"These are the same Canadians that you meet every day at the grocery store. The difference is that the polls are a controlled environment where safety measures can be applied more rigorously," he said at a press briefing in Ottawa today.
"If you look back at the last 18 months, we've had elections in Canada provincially and we've had territorial elections. There have been elections around the world. And there has not been outbreaks of COVID-19 as a result of in-person voting."
Perrault said that if the situation changes, his agency will adjust its rules. He said that polling stations will follow the public health measures specific to each province.
"There are medical exemptions but they should plan their vote and if you do not intend to vote with a mask, I would encourage you to vote by mail," he said.
"If you have a medical reason not to wear a mask then you will not be denied the right to vote, but if it's just a matter of personal choice and the mask is mandatory in the jurisdiction in which you are voting, then we will apply those rules."
Elections Canada says that to reduce interactions between voters and poll workers, there will only be one poll worker at each desk and they will be seated behind plexiglass barriers.
Common surfaces will be cleared regularly, poll workers will be wearing masks and face shields and single-use pencils will be provided. Voters are also free to bring their own pencils.
WATCH: Elections Canada lays out safety plan at polling stations on election day:
Perrault also warned that polling stations will be different this year than in the last federal election. Some traditional polling stations cannot maintain physical distancing, while others have been turned into COVID-19 testing sites.
The locations of the polls are still being worked out by Elections Canada officials. Perrault said there will be enough to ensure a smooth election day.
"Dr. Tam was very clear when she spoke … less than a week ago that it is perfectly safe to vote at a polling place if the proper measures are in place and that is what we are focusing on," he said.
Any instance of double-voting will be referred to the commissioner of Canada elections for his consideration and investigation. There are serious offences under the act for attempting to vote twice.- Stephane Perrault
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier this month that voting in a pandemic climate can be done safely, although she didn't comment on the risks involved in parties conducting cross-country campaigns.
While officials are assuring Canadians that the election will be safe, it will also be more expensive.
Perrault said that the 2019 federal election cost taxpayers around $506 million, while the 2021 federal election will cost $612 million. Part of the reason for the extra cost is the anticipated surge in mail-in votes.
According to Elections Canada, up to five million Canadians are expected to vote by mail this time. Roughly 50,000 voters cast ballots by mail in 2019; about 15,000 were from abroad.
Mail in votes
Elections Canada officials speaking on background said that roughly 500,000 to 700,000 of those mail-in ballots will come from people voting from abroad or outside of their home ridings, from military voters and from the incarcerated.
These non-local mail-in ballots will all be counted in Ottawa and that counting will start before election day. Totals are to be posted on the Elections Canada website once the polls close.
In order for these non-local votes to be counted, Elections Canada officials must have received them in Ottawa by 6 p.m. on voting day. Every non-local ballot will be applied to the riding in which the voter last held a permanent address.
The rest of the mail-in ballots will be coming from Canadians voting from within their home ridings who do not want to go to a polling station.
All of these local mail-in votes must be received by officials in the riding before the close of polls on election day in that specific riding.
Perrault said Elections Canada officials will start counting these votes the day after the election and it could take up to five days to complete the count. That extra time is required, Perrault said, because poll workers must verify that Canadians have not voted both by mail and in person.
WATCH: Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault explains voting by mail
Once a voter has asked Elections Canada for a mail-in ballot, their name is crossed off the local voting roll for election day. If someone shows up at a polling station asking to vote in person because their mail-in ballot did not arrive, they will be required to swear an oath that they are only voting once.
If Elections Canada receives a mail-in vote from a person who swore that oath at a polling station, the mail-in vote will be destroyed.
"Any instance of double-voting will be referred to the commissioner of Canada elections for his consideration and investigation. There are serious offences under the act for attempting to vote twice," Perrault said.
With files from The Canadian Press