Elections chief says voting will be safe despite lack of mandatory vaccine rule for poll workers

Elections chief says voting will be safe despite lack of mandatory vaccine rule for poll workers-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault will discuss how the pandemic is changing the way his agency runs the federal election. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

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.

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“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.”

Earlier this month, Perrault warned Canadians that they might find themselves voting in unusual places or having to go a bit further afield to cast their ballots — part of changes the agency is implementing to ensure voting is conducted safely.

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.

Perrault told the Canadian Press earlier this month that mail-in ballots will not be counted until the day after the election — to allow officials to receive them right up to the moment before polls close and to give election officials time to ensure no one voted twice.

In a worst-case scenario, he said, it might take two to five days to complete the mail-in ballot count.

That could mean the results of close races in some ridings won’t be known immediately.

The names of those issued mail-in ballots will be marked on voting lists as having already voted. Individuals who don’t receive their mail-in ballot by voting day may swear an oath to that effect and still vote in person. Mail-in ballots sent by anyone found to have voted in person will not be counted.

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.

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