Chief Electoral Officer sees early signs of heightened voter interest

Image by Thinkstock

Image by Thinkstock

Election’s new fixed-date feature anticipated to be a game-changer

By Kyle Duggan — The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

OTTAWA (CUP) — The election writs are being signed, sealed, and delivered to all of Canada’s 338 ridings, and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand says there’s a lot of interest already at such an early point in the campaign.

“If you asked me before whether in the first week of August we’d see 13,000 Canadians registered for the first time for an election, I would not have bet on that,” Mayrand told iPolitics in an article on August 14.

“It is a sign out there people are paying attention. We had an average number of calls of 15,000 per day this election. And being so early in the process, that is somewhat unusual, but it points out people are paying attention.”

In fact, 13 people have already voted, something he says few Canadians are aware they can do right now if they’ve already made their minds up. While the overall trend in turnout has been downward, he says it’s still up in the air how that will play out this year.

Many critics have raised concerns over how changes to the Elections Act that affect the ease of voting will in turn affect participation.

“We’re set up to service 26 million Canadians. If only 15 show up, it’s always a bit of a disappointment, but that’s a decision for voters to take and for civil society to mobilize and be engaged and take part in the democratic life of the country.”

Mayrand says preparing for this election, Canada’s first with a fixed election date, has been like starting from scratch. There are 30 new ridings, but the riding redistribution affected almost all of them.

“For a normal election we produce 5,000 maps down to the local level. So these all have to be redone to reflect the changes in redistribution. It takes the better part of a year, a year and a half almost, to redo all the polls across the country.”

Elections Canada now has about 68,000 polls in roughly 18,000 locations—and Mayrand says each poll was inspected individually for accessibility.

They also need to raise an army to orchestrate it all. Elections Canada only staffs about 350 people during the normal year, but needs to staff up nearly double that, and then find 250,000 temporary workers—roughly the size of the whole public service—for just a few days.

For all those who make fun of election-speculation news stories, Elections Canada follows them just as closely as everyone else in the Ottawa bubble, adding to the complexity of preparing for an election which had a fixed date, but no fixed start.

“There was speculation in the spring, so we were ready to go on March 1. Then we had to stand down, because it’s costly to remain at the highest level of readiness and set out our next date for September 1. The election was called on August 2, so we of course had to accelerate our plans.”

The focus right now for Elections Canada is setting up to administer the election, sending some 80 trucks out to deliver 3,000 tonnes of election material to all of Canada’s ridings. Afterward, Mayrand plans to prepare a report on Canada’s first fixed-date election, noting rules that might need to be adjusted.

“The fact that we had a fixed date allowed everyone, in principle, to better plan. It seems to have been noted by third parties, political parties, so we need to see if anything out there has impacted the level playing field or not. I think it’s a bit early, we need to let the election play through.”

The Other Press

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