Elections Canada is urging Winnipeggers to check whether they’ve been given an accurate polling location before heading out today, as experts warn it might take days to get clear results.

Elections Canada is urging Winnipeggers to check whether they’ve been given an accurate polling location before heading out today, as experts warn it might take days to get clear results.

"In most elections, you know the final result; you know the trends and who is going to form government halfway through the evening," said Jonathan Malloy, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"In this case, that’s highly unlikely."

Manitobans have from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. today to make it to their polling station, unless they were among the 184,611 voters who cast a ballot in advanced polls, a 57 per cent increase over the 2019 election.

What you need for the polls

 

The voter information card isn’t enough to cast a ballot; you’ll need to bring at least one piece of official identification such as a driver's licence.

The voter information card isn’t enough to cast a ballot; you’ll need to bring at least one piece of official identification such as a driver's licence.

If your licence doesn’t have your current address, or you are using a photo I.D. with no printed address, such as a passport, make sure to bring something that proves your address, such as a Hydro bill.

Similarly, you'll need those piece of identification to register at the polling station, if you haven't received a voter information card.

All voters must wear a face mask. Elections Canada is providing masks, but it’s a good idea to bring your own.

The agency encourages people to check their polling location on the Elections Canada website, given that some updated voter information cards will not have arrived in time by mail.

—Dylan Robertson

Elections Canada has implemented COVID-19 protocols to distance voters and keep things clean, such as issuing individual wooden pencils to each voter.

Those extra duties come as the agency stares down a staffing crunch, with many former poll workers declining the gig during the pandemic.

"It’s been a challenge nationally; we’ve been looking for 215,000 workers," said Elections Canada spokeswoman Marie-France Kenny.

As of Friday morning, the agency had hired 82 per cent of its target, and was reaching out to those who worked in previous elections, with training scheduled across Canada through this past weekend.

Meanwhile, 37,654 Manitobans have received a special ballot, which can be mailed or dropped off. As of Sunday, 30,658 of these had been returned, amounting to 81 per cent.

If you still have a special ballot, you have to return it to a polling station within your own riding.

Earlier, voters had a chance to mail those ballots or drop them off at the returning office in a different riding, but votes from outside the riding are only valid if received in Ottawa by 6 p.m. local time. Those who are mailing a vote within their own riding would have it sent to their local returning office, which has the same deadline. (Unlike in the U.S., Canadian votes are not counted based on a postmarked date, they instead must be received in Ottawa on time.)

There were 1.2 million special-ballot kits issued, compared with roughly 55,000 mailed-in voting kits in the 2019 vote.

This evening, Elections Canada staff will only count the ballots cast today at polling locations, and include the tally from advanced votes.

Poll workers will wait until Tuesday, the day after the election, to inspect the special ballots, to make sure nobody tried to vote twice.

"There are safeguards in place to ensure you didn’t vote twice," said Kenny, a regional spokeswoman for the Prairies.

"That will take while, and we only have so many people to do that."

The process involves checking for a signature on the external envelope and verifying its barcode against a list of who’s already voted. Staff then put the internal envelope in a box in order, for that vote to be counted.

That process, which starts Tuesday, could take 24 hours, before those votes actually get tallied.

Meanwhile, agency staff have had to change polling stations as provinces changed their public-health rules.

Manitoba decided in February that it would not allow polls in schools if an election got called this year, to give teachers more space to distance children.

Manitoba decided in February that it would not allow polls in schools if an election got called this year, to give teachers more space to distance children.

In Winnipeg, about 90 per cent of polls have been in schools, forcing the agency to find hundreds of new sites, as it needs to be prepared for an election at any moment.

Local returning officers had signed dozens of short-term leases by the time Manitoba suddenly lifted its mask mandate on Aug. 7.

Yet some businesses and churches opted to keep requiring masks, saying they wouldn’t allow a poll location if Elections Canada couldn’t guarantee people would wear masks.

Ultimately, the Manitoba government reversed course, reinstating its provincewide mask mandate on Aug. 24, by which point the agency had already reviewed its own policies and voting locations.

"It’s been very difficult to find for our returning officers, particularly in Manitoba," said Kenny.

"There has been quite a bit of creativity, in terms of finding places."

Returning officers have set up polls at the Winnipeg IKEA, in real-estate offices and a construction trailer atop a parking lot. In another province, a funeral parlour is hosting a polling station.

Because of the switch-ups, Elections Canada has had to re-issue voter identification cards, meaning people have shown up to polls only to find out their poll has been moved miles away. That’s because the agency printed and mailed a new card, but the agency knows that some won’t arrive in time for Monday.

"Particularly in the Winnipeg area, we’re asking electors to check online, before they head out to the poll, or call their returning office … to check exactly where they need to go," Kenny said.

Normally, if you make it inside the polling station by closing time, you can cast your ballot, even if there’s still a line.

This year, in order to avoid unsafe crowding, Elections Canada will send out someone at 8:30 p.m. to stand at the back of the line, and shoo away any latecomers.

Kenny urges Manitobans to be patient, noting that poll workers will have a 12-hour day, and are still short-staffed.

“... If you’re waiting in line it’s because we’re disinfecting; we’re making sure you’re safe. The people working at the poll are people from your riding... working to make sure you can vote in a safe environment.” ‐ Elections Canada spokeswoman Marie-France Kenny

"It’s not fun for anybody, but if you’re waiting in line it’s because we’re disinfecting; we’re making sure you’re safe," said Kenny, warning the first hour of voting might be particularly slow as staff get into a routine.

"The people working at the poll are people from your riding. So they’re your neighbours, family and friends, working to make sure you can vote in a safe environment."

It’s not just the mechanics of counting ballots that could make Monday evening an unpredictable night. Federal polls have been tight, with limited regional movement between the main parties.

Malloy chalks that up to how much consensus the major parties share. The five main parties all want a carbon tax, say affordability is a major issue, and want to boost social spending as Canada recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tories and Liberals have tried to differentiate themselves by focusing on guns, health privatization and China.

"You don’t see a really big philosophical difference between the two," Malloy said.

"They actually agree on way more than they’d admit."

Analysts are expecting numerous tight races, particularly as votes for smaller parties could undercut a candidate who would otherwise rise to first place. That could play out in the ballots that won’t be counted until Tuesday.

Malloy, who is the Ruth Bell Chair in Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, says that no matter how unpredictable the results are, Canadians should be thankful we live in an overwhelmingly cohesive society with a trusted, independent election agency.

He noted in the United States, there are multiple electoral systems that help play into conspiracy theories, and bitter divisions over radically different candidates.

"Canadians can make a reasonable case to their friends and family about why they voted the way they (chose, and) it’s not going to tear their family apart if they vote differently."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca