Lethbridge officials confident elections can take place safely during pandemic
Federal and municipal returning officers are confident they can provide safe elections for voters and workers in the coming months.
Southern Albertans will be voting twice, casting a ballot in the federal election Sept. 20 and returning to the polls for the municipal election Oct. 18.
For local returning officers, they will be the first elections since the beginning of the pandemic.
"It’ll definitely be a safe environment," said David Walters, returning officer for the federal Lethbridge riding.
"We’ve received pandemic protocol manuals and we’ll follow all the protocols necessary to make sure there’s a safe environment to vote, and also for poll workers."
Summer election preparations in Lethbridge, Aug. 26, 2021
Voters can expect a number of changes to reduce the risk from COVID-19. For example, in the Lethbridge riding Elections Canada will not be using schools for poling locations. Instead, they have increased the number of facilities and will be moving the polling stations farther apart to allow for safe distancing. Elections Canada says the use of schools as election facilities will vary from riding to riding, depending on discussions with local school divisions.
Walters said there would also be two "mega-polls" in Lethbridge, including one at Exhibition Park where there will be 34 ballot boxes.
"They have a large facility there, we know that we can make it safe," added Walters.
The other mega-poll will be located at the YMCA building in west Lethbridge where there will be 14 voting stations.
With only 36 days to prepare for the snap election, Elections Canada has put out a call for people to work at the polling stations on Sept. 20.
"I want to really encourage people come down and apply to be a poll worker," said Walters.
"Some people may be a little hesitant but we need to hire in a very short time over 700 people."
Applications are being accepted at the Elections Canada office in Lethbridge at 640 13 Street North.
Walters said it is difficult to know what to expect because of the pandemic and disruptions to the economic environment due to the pandemic.
He said they have hired enough workers for the advance polls Sept. 10-13, but still need to hire over 500 workers to work at the polls on Election Day.
The city of Lethbridge is also hiring for the Municipal Election that will be held a month later. Deputy City Clerk David Sarsfield said the city needed to hire about 300 people. However, he does not see it as a competition for election workers.
"Most of the people who work the federal and municipal elections just work for the one day, the election itself," said Sarsfield.
"So it (federal election) gets them excited about the process, and they can have two chances to work."
According to Sarsfield the city will make a final decision on pandemic protocols later, based on COVID-19 cases in October.
However, a number of changes are planned to help keep the election safe, including a drive-through polling location at Exhibition Park for voters who are concerned about COVID-19.
"People stay in the car, and cast their ballot in the car," added Sarsfield.
There will be 14 polling locations for the municipal election on Oct. 18 and residents will be able to cast their ballot wherever it is most convenient.
The city will also be launching a web tool for monitoring lineups and wait times at each voting location.
"We’ve tried to deal with whatever the COVID-19 situation may be," added Sarsfield.
He said some decisions around protocols might not be made until election day, adding the city wants to make the election safe for both voters and election workers.
The original version indicated Elections Canada would not hold polling stations in schools. While polling stations in the Lethbridge riding will not be located in schools, schools may be utilized in other ridings.