Elections Canada 'sorry' people didn't vote because of long lineups
TORONTO -- Many older voters, parents with young children and Canadians with disabilities didn’t vote on Monday because they couldn’t wait in long lineups at their voting sites. Elections Canada has apologized but said there was little else they could do given COVID-19 restrictions.
“I always vote and am incredibly disappointed I did not this time,” said Patricia Au, a voter in the Toronto riding of University—Rosedale. She was told two times on Monday she’d be waiting for two hours. “I forfeited my ballot this year.”
Farah Hassanali, a single mother from Ajax, Ont. with five-year-old twins, was similarly discouraged by how slow the line was moving at her voting site.
“I had to pick up my kids from school and daycare… and I wasn't able to go back to vote because my kids are young and I couldn’t stand in line with them for hours,” she told CTVNews.ca In a phone interview.
“I did set out some time in my day to go and vote but my past experiences have never taken that long,” Hassanali said. And because a Liberal win was projected before many had even voted, she saw people who left the line because they felt their votes didn’t matter.
“I don't think it was efficient and properly run.”
ELECTIONS CANADA 'SORRY' BUT HANDS WERE TIED
Upon hearing the stories of people ditching the lineups, Elections Canada media advisor Rejean Grenier said, “I feel for people who had to do that.”
But he stressed the agency didn’t have a choice in whether to run the election during the pandemic. This year, there were significantly fewer overall voting sites in many ridings across the country, due to COVID-19 restrictions which prevented many schools, churches, or other buildings from being eligible locations.
“We had all of the criteria that was placed on us where we had no choice about choosing certain sites,” Grenier said in a phone interview. He explained that despite ridings having fewer voting sites, there were more booths inside them, which meant the total number of voting booths overall was similar to past years.
He also noted that people who couldn’t or didn’t want to wait in line, could’ve mailed in their ballots, or submitted their ballots through advanced voting during the four assigned days earlier this month.
“We're very sorry that people couldn't or wouldn't stay in line, but most people were patient and did,” Grenier said.
OLDER VOTERS, THOSE WITH DISABILITIES LEFT OUT
For many older voters and those with disabilities, it was less a matter of patience and more of physical limitations.
Roy Bagnato and his wife, in the Ontario’s York-Simcoe riding, told CTVNews.ca in an email that they’re in early 80s and couldn’t wait in the hot sun. Meanwhile seniors Gord Bulllied and his wife similarly couldn’t wait hours at their voting site in Peterborough county in southern Ontario.
“So for the first time in our life we did not vote,” Bulllied wrote to CTVNews.ca in an email.
Several other voters -- such as Patricia Farmer from Keswick, Ont. who uses a wheelchair -- said their physical disabilities made lineups difficult.
“Cars were lined up all the way down the main road. It was not moving and it would have taken hours before we could even park,” she wrote CTVNews.ca in an email, saying this was the case the two times she went.
“We have always instilled the importance of voting into our children and grandchildren no matter what, and we practiced what we preached. Well, this time none of us were offered the ability to vote.”
Whitby, Ont. resident Nikki Yannique Henderson has cerebral palsy and felt “very deflated” because she can’t stand for long periods of time.
“I think it super disappointing. We hear time and time again that people with disabilities matter, but this goes to show that we have a long way to go,” she told CTVNews.ca via text, noting that simply having the building being wheelchair accessible isn’t enough to make areas truly accessible.
“Ideally there should be a line for those who may have mobility challenges,” she said. “We need to continue to look at ways to make the experience fully accessible from the beginning.”
Her father, David MacKinnon -- vice-chair of the Town of Whitby Accessibility Advisory Committee -- wished that security and voting site volunteers had shown more leeway in expediting wait times for older Canadians and those with disabilities.
“I'm almost 70 years old. I'm not going to stand in line for that kind of time… One look at the lineup and we just kept driving,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve not voted in an election.”
The Elections Canada spokesperson said in past elections, volunteers would often scan lines to allow older voters to skip the line. But this time around, the lines were too long and volunteers were instead focused on moving the lines along.
WHAT ABOUT ONLINE VOTING?
MacKinnon said more needs to be done for disabled Canadians, and this pandemic election was the year to do it.
“Persons with disabilities have a tough time voting, even with mail-in ballots. A web-based voting system is needed,” he said.
He said it there should be a “trusted voter” program which allows people to vote online if they’ve been screened thoroughly by the government.
The Elections Canada spokesperson Grenier cited evidence showing how online voting – as was seen in the 2018 municipal elections in Ontario -- can be unfortunately prone to errors and irregularities. He said even if an infrastructure could be set up, it would require a change to the Elections Act before it’s used federally.
Although she was unable to vote, Hassanali said she has sympathy for Elections Canada for organizing an election during a pandemic, but given the COVID-19 restrictions were known so far in advance, she wishes there were more advance polling days or more time allowed to mail in their ballots.
“I feel like my voice wasn’t heard and I understand many people are in the same situation.”