Canada election 2021: Votes the country could be missing because of the COVID-19 pandemic

·3-min read

Changes to how and where we vote will likely have an impact on voter turnout, experts are predicting, which could especially affect the number of voters from underrepresented groups and marginalized communities.

Mail-in vote complications

Holding a snap election during an ongoing pandemic will likely see an increase in mail-in votes, though some say that option could also dissuade voters. And while college and university campuses and seniors centres have traditionally been used as voting polling stations in past elections, that won’t be the case this time. In turn, it could see a decline in specific demographics.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and Democracy Education Network, says a mail-in ballot just means there’s more steps involved when it comes to casting your ballot.

“Whenever you add a few more steps to any process, you will decrease participation,” he tells Yahoo News Canada.

Because it was a snap election...Elections Canada said it doesn’t have the time to set up polling stations at universities and college campuses, which will make it more difficult for students to vote and that will likely decrease voter turnout by students and youth overall.Duff Conacher, Co-Founder of Democracy Watch and Democracy Education Network

Seniors in homes will face challenge voting 

Laura Tamblyn Watts, president and CEO of CanAge, a seniors advocacy organization, says her group is in close contact with Elections Canada to discuss how seniors will be navigating the next election. The absence of voting stations at senior homes could prove to be an additional barrier for some of the elderly population.

She explains that the administration of a long-term care or congregate home, such as a manager or director, must proactively reach out to their local Elections Canada polling office and book a mobile polling site. That way, Elections Canada’s officials can come into the care homes and there will be on the ground voting. But that option presents its own problems.

“People who come in with the mobile polling are not required to be vaccinated, they’re not federal employees and that’s an additional challenge for anyone who might want to go to a polling station,” she says. “There are requirements for protective gear, masking and social distancing but this is an additional concern for long term care workers, especially in a third and fourth wave.”

How candidates meet with their constituents will also be challenged since the usual step of canvassing neighbourhoods isn’t a likely option during a pandemic.

FULL COVERAGE: Latest news on Canada's Federal Election

“We wanted to make sure the visitor policies (of long term and congregate care housing) doesn’t conflict with people’s democratic right to meet with elected officials,” Tamblyn Watts says. “Lots of places who provide care are struggling to understand what their requirements are and what are the risks. “

She says that Elections Canada has been helpful in providing a guide for service centres, but the information isn’t that accessible to find on their website.

Door-to-door canvassing, COVID-19 worries skew vote

Gerald Baier, an associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, says it’s highly unlikely that candidates will be going door-to-door to meet with voters.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to come to your door, except the mailman, to deliver your ballot,” he says.

Randy Besco, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, concurs. He says that it remains to be seen how parties will adopt their “Get Out The Vote” efforts and if their chosen strategies will work as well.

“Less door-knocking, more phoning? I don't know,” he says.

Besco adds that polling shows that non-White immigrants are more worried about COVID-19, and in turn, are less likely to vote. For that reason, it’s possible turnout will be lower for non-White Canadians this year.

For their part, Elections Canada has included a section on their website to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the election.

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