Advance polling for St. Albert's municipal election opened on Monday and the city is laying out a plan for COVID-19 precautions.
Election day falls on Oct. 18, when stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Physical distancing will be required at polling stations, and there will be Plexiglas barriers between voters and election workers. Hand sanitization will also be required, and pencils used for voting will be sanitized before they are put back into circulation.
It is still possible to request a special ballot if electors are unable to vote at an advance voting station or at the voting station on election day.
David Leflar, St. Albert’s returning officer and the city's director of legal and legislative services, said St. Albert is trying to make as many opportunities for electors to vote as possible.
“We all know where the COVID-19 numbers are in Alberta right now, and it’s pretty horrible,” Leflar said. “But I do want to encourage people to please come and vote. We’re doing absolutely everything we can to keep you safe … and it’s probably one of the more important elections that St. Albert has had for quite some time. A lot of things are at stake here.”
While the original plan was to make masking mandatory in polling stations, on Friday Leflar received a bulletin from Alberta Municipal Affairs stating that the mandatory indoor masking requirement does apply to polling stations, returning officers are not to attempt to enforce the masking order.
"If an eligible elector shows up to vote without a mask on, we are to give them a ballot and allow them to vote," the bulletin said.
Leflar said accordingly, the citty will be asking all voters o wear a mask while in a polling stations.
"We will have an ample supply of masks to give out if an elector does not have a mask of their own, butt we will not be requiring masks to be worn in polling stations," Leflar said in an email Tuesday morning.
There is no deadline to request a special ballot, but Leflar noted electors should be cautious about how late they choose to do so.
“If you ask for a special ballot on the Friday before election day, we can’t guarantee we can get it to you that quickly,” Leflar said.
As for enforcing things such as social distancing, Leflar said the city will hire dedicated security staff.
“We don’t want to put our election staff in the position of having to enforce requirements if someone is trying to breach them,” Leflar said.
However, he noted he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“As we’ve seen now that the restriction exemption program is being used in city facilities, the vast majority of people are quite happy to go along with the requirements,” Leflar said.
Leflar noted some aspects of the voting process still remain uncertain due to lack of clarity from the province. Currently, the plan is to ensure that all election workers have to show proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before the day they show up for their shift, but it is unclear whether this will be allowed with current provincial health orders.
“[The province is] basically saying that anything that is election purposes or related activities … is not eligible for the restriction exemption program,” Leflar said. “Does that mean they’re trying to tell us we’re not supposed to require proof of vaccination [for employees]? … or can we go ahead and require proof even though we’re not part of a program?”
The city is currently seeking clarification on what the health order will mean for election employee requirements.
In addition to special ballots, electors can vote at advance polling stations in the lead-up to the election.
Leflar said there are more advanced polling opportunities for this election than there were previously in 2017, including one additional polling station outside of St. Albert for university students, and one additional advance polling station within city limits.
Advance voting stations are open at St. Albert Community Hall and Servus Place on Oct. 4-8, and at the Arden Theatre Hall and again at Servus Place from Oct. 11-15. There are also four post-secondary voting stations open for advance voting, including at Concordia University, the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, and Norquest College.
Additionally, advance polling stations will be available at a variety of institutions such as the Citadel Care Centre and Chartwell Seniors Living from Oct. 12-15. A full list can be found on the city’s website.