It shouldn't come as a surprise that federal election polling stations will look a little different this year-think a lot more plexiglass, masked faces, and physical distance between people. Elections Canada began preparing for a COVID election long before the writ dropped, and will implement several common safety measures across the country.
This federal election update is intended to convey information about COVID-related changes to election procedure. It is intended as general guidance only. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please contact Awanish Sinha, Hartley Lefton, Amanda D. Iarusso, Jacob Klugsberg, Andrew Butler, or Adam Kanji of our firm's Public Sector. We would be pleased to assist you.
Measures for a Safer Pandemic Election
In the Spring of 2020, Elections Canada set up a working group to monitor the risks of holding an election while COVID-19 remains a feature in Canadians' daily lives.1 The working group was also tasked with identifying ways elections operations may need to change in light of the pandemic.2
Even before the 2021 election was called, Elections Canada had a plan for increased health and safety measures for polling stations in all electoral districts. The plan includes:
- Hand sanitizing stations at entrances and exists of voting rooms;
- Plexiglass barriers separating election workers from the public;
- PPE, like face maks, face shields, and gloves supplied for elections workers and
- Physical distancing measures, with signage to remind voters to keep apart.3
These are similar to safety measures that Canadians are now very familiar with.
At a press conference held August 18, 2021, Elections Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault confirmed that vaccination against COVID-19 will not be a pre-requisite to voting in person-or working-at a polling station.4Elections Canada has also confirmed that voters may bring their own pencils with which to cast their vote, and that the supplied pencils will be single-use.5
Canadians' experience of the 2021 federal election might not include a polling station at all-Elections Canada anticipates increased uptake of mail-in voting by special ballot.
Voting by mail has been an option for Canadians for almost 30 years. But polling conducted by Elections Canada in September 2020 indicate a substantial demand for mail-in ballots: 23.4% of respondents said that they intended to vote by mail.6 Additional research suggests that metric has only grown as the election has approached.7
At the August 18 press conference, Mr. Perrault also indicated that the increased use of mail-in ballots this election may cause a delay in counting-up to five days in some jurisdictions. Counting mail-in ballots will not begin until after election night.8 Depending on which electoral districts experience these delays, Canadians might not have certainty on the election's outcome for days after the evening of the election on September 20.
Note that if you among those intending to vote by mail this federal election, you must apply to do so before the deadline on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, 6:00 p.m., local time.
This post is part of our 2021 federal election series. You can access related content here.
1. Elections Canada, GE Delivery in Pandemic Circumstances Working Group - Terms of Reference (April 30, 2020).
3. Elections Canada, Impact of COVID-19 (July 8, 2021).
4. Elections Canada, Press Conference, "Technical Briefing for the 44th General Federal Election" (August 18, 2021).
5. Elections Canada, COVID-19 FAQs.
6. Elections Canada, Canadian attitudes towards voting during the COVID-19 pandemic - Wave 3 (October 13, 2020).
7. Elections Canada, Canadian attitudes towards voting during the COVID-19 pandemic - Wave 5 (May 4, 2021).
8. Elections Canada, Press Conference, "Technical Briefing for the 44th General Federal Election" (August 18, 2021).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.