44th General Election
Seriously Irresponsible Election
Returning Officers are at the end of their tether and the election is only into its tenth day. Imagine this: one returning office in the Toronto region requires 900 staff. Across the country, in its 338 ridings, more than 250,000 election workers have to be hired. Add to this the fact that the electoral law stipulates that half of the positions must be held open for seven days so that parties and candidates who participated in the previous election can fill them with recommended people. That leaves less than 30 days to conduct interviews and hire.
Keep in mind that many of the people who typically fill these positions, mostly seniors, are not going to be available because of COVID concerns. Elections Canada made a proposal to the parliamentary committee in charge of electoral law matters to change polling day from the single 12-hour day on Monday September 20, to two 8-hour days on Saturday and Sunday to enlarge the pool of available hirees, among other reasons. Furthermore, Elections Canada said the conditions of working a 12-hour day, wearing masks, would be difficult and expressed fears that some might even walk off the job. This proposal was rejected by the committee.
On top of that, the Liberals self-servingly chose the back to school period to hold this election. Parents, students and teachers have their hands full with getting the school year up and running. Because of the past year with online learning and total uncertainty as to what precautions are required this year, everyone is doubly worried. Thus, parents and students are also not available to fill the posts with Elections Canada.
But this is not all. Returning Officers have had to face a lot more than that in the first ten days of this irresponsible campaign. They had to become familiar with the Political Entities Service Portal (PESC). PESC is an online system for candidate registration which is quite complicated to use because of all the built in security protocols which have to be followed and it still has various kinks which Elections Canada is doing its best to address. It was used for the first time in the 2019 election but only now with the COVID pandemic is its use becoming widespread and this entails an extra learning curve and attention. Returning Officers are also having to learn how to hold virtual meetings with candidates to minimize physical contact, all of it using online security protocols.
An additional challenge is the fact that many people are coming to the Returning Officers to get mail-in ballots. One returning officer pointed out that without a full complement of staff he was faced with 500 people in the first week coming in for mail-in ballots. These ballots cannot just be handed out. Full information has to be taken down from each applicant to safeguard the integrity of the vote and then the kits have to be created and mailed out. While electors can apply online for their mail-in ballots, clearly many do not have the means to do so, either because they don’t have the capacity or ability to scan identification documents, or they may not be computer literate at all or have access to the necessary equipment. And even if they do, it is their right to come in person to get a mail-in ballot.
So for those of you out there who are really frustrated at why your meetings with returning officers are delayed – time and time again – imagine how frustrated the Returning Officers are.
This is a seriously irresponsible COVID election.