N.B. elections chief likens pandemic voting to grocery shopping
TORONTO -- New Brunswick's snap pandemic election Monday shouldn't feel much different than visiting a grocery store, according to the province's Chief Electoral Officer.
“For voters, it’s going to be a lot like what they’ve gotten used to through the last six months when they go shopping, when they go to the grocery store,” Kimberly Poffenroth told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.
That means physical distancing, face coverings and sanitizing hands upon entering and exiting the poll station. But the election and the campaigns that preceded it have been unlike anything Canadians have experienced before. No rallies, less door-knocking, no baby-kissing political photo-ops.
It was a short 28 days of caution. In-person voting has been a heated issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the U.S., where almost 200,000 people have died from the virus and known infections have surpassed 6.5 million. In New Brunswick, officials have recorded fewer than 200 cases since the start of the pandemic, just 21 in all of August and two so far this month. In June, the province recorded two deaths.
The snap election, called by Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs just 21 months into his first term, caused parties to find new ways to secure votes.
“It really was a low-key campaign conducted with signs, pamphlets and social media,” Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, told The Canadian Press. “We live in a wired world, and that certainly has helped their cause.”
Some leaders, including Mackenzie Thomason, the 23-year-old interim leader of the New Democrats, still went door-to-door, but added extra precautions when talking to prospective voters.
“I am wearing a mask, gloves and standing back the length of a metre stick plus my arm,” he told The Canadian Press, joking that he's gone though “eight million bottles of sanitizer.”
The snap vote call in August forced Poffenroth’s team to implement speedy safety protocols for polling stations. She told CTV’s Your Morning that many voters have already reached out expressing gratitude. One woman older than 60, the age group at highest risk of severe COVID-19 complications, said she had been nervous about voting during the pandemic, but enjoyed a “safe, comfortable” voting experience.
“There have been some challenges with a snap election only 28 days long during a global pandemic,” said Poffenroth. “But I was really impressed with how the team right across the entire province addressed those challenges when they arose.”
With files from The Canadian Press