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Poll workers learn new rules as advance polls open

While many Canadians sit down to a family Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, thousands of Elections Canada workers and party volunteers will be spending part of their holiday minding the ballot boxes. Advance polling for the federal election starts Friday and runs all weekend.

Rules around face coverings, voter ID and transgender electors studied carefully by workers

A woman enters an advanced polling station in Montreal Friday, April 22, 2011. Advanced polls for this federal election open on October 9. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

While many Canadians sit down to a family Thanksgiving dinner this weekend, thousands of Elections Canada workers and party volunteers will be spending part of their holiday minding the ballot boxes.

Advance polling for the federal election starts Friday, Oct. 9, and runs through the Thanksgiving weekend, and Elections Canada workers have had to familiarize themselves with some new regulations.

New rules around voter ID

That's because the new Fair Elections Act has expanded what can be used as valid identification. The changes were made, in part, in response to a change in the rules that limits the role of vouching on behalf of a person who doesn't have proper ID.

But the old standbys still work. Any single government-issued ID with your name, photo and current address will still get you your ballot, provided you are at the right polling location.

There's also an expanded list of acceptable documents and ID, which includes everything from credit card statements to gun licences to library cards. Even an electronic invoice stored on a mobile device works.

But voters must have two of these types of ID, and one of them must include your current address.

"You can also use even a pharmaceutical container from a pharmacy that has your name on it," said Elections Canada spokesperson Francoise Enguehard. "You can use that as ID."

Canadians are entitled to vote while wearing a face covering

There are other new guidelines for Elections Canada workers to familiarize themselves with. For example, workers received a special insert in their guidebook regarding transgender people.

It says if a person presents at the polls as a different gender, or even with a different name than their identification indicates, they can still vote. Only in rare cases would they be asked to provide an explanation.

As well, Enguehard said people can vote while wearing a face covering, such as a niqab.

"Showing one's face or one's photograph is not an obligation as part of the election as it stands right now," she said. 

"Everybody is going to be welcome at the polls."


What the Elections Canada Poll Clerk Guidebook says about voting while wearing a face covering

The guidebook used by returning officers and poll clerks offers different options for a voter who chooses to wear a face covering. The guide details steps for the following two options:

Option 1: They decide to take off their face covering.

  • Serve elector following regular process.

Option 2: They decide to keep their face covered, show two pieces of ID and take an oath.

  • Read oath to elector.
  • Poll clerk writes elector information and ticks box for oath next to their name.
  • Serve elector following regular process.

Party agents work to ensure fairness, get out the vote

Those who are welcome at the polls include volunteers, often referred to as party agents.

They must be registered with one of the political parties and they are often present at voting stations to ensure the fairness of the voting process.

They also look to boost voter turnout for their parties, according to Christine Ackermann. She's a volunteer agent for Halifax NDP candidate Megan Leslie.

"We spend the entire campaign identifying our voters," said Ackerman, "so that come election day, when we're sitting in polls we know, 'Oh, that's Mr. Smith, we definitely know he's voting for Megan because he told us he was going to vote for Megan.' So we want to make sure he can actually vote."

After the ballots are cast, other partisan players get involved. They're called scrutineers, and they monitor the counting of the votes themselves.

Joan Fraser is a Halifax-based scrutineer for the Liberals. She said she pays particular attention to ballots that are rejected.

"If it's a rejected ballot and it's your candidate, you want to know," she said. "Supposing the poll was lost by two ballots — that happens — that poll would probably have to be recounted."

Fraser said it's the scrutineer's notes, along with the number of rejected ballots, that help a candidate decide whether to challenge a vote count — and possibly alter the outcome of an election.

"While people might think that one vote doesn't matter, it does," she said. "It's wonderful."

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