Voting by mail is not as accessible for the municipal election as it was for Monday’s federal election.
During the pandemic, Elections Canada received a record number of mail-in ballots this year: nearly one million from within Canada and another 26,266 received from people living outside of the country. All they had to do was apply to vote by mail.
But Samantha Rodwell, Red Deer’s returning officer, said there are only three reasons why someone can request a municipal mail-in ballot, called special ballots — a physical disability prevents them from going to a voting station; they are absent from the jurisdiction; or they have a direct involvement with the election that requires them to be at a different facility than their regular voting station.
She said the province says the pandemic is not one of those reasons.
“(The City of Red Deer) did advocate for that to be changed, however the provincial government did not change the rules related to mail-in ballots for the municipal election,” Rodwell said.
She said the reasons allowing special ballots was established quite some time ago in the Local Authorities Election Act.
“That information just carried over for 2021 and we were hoping due to the pandemic the ability to apply for a special ballot would have increased.”
But she said due to the pandemic the city has adjusted election operations to provide three advanced voting stations that will be open for 13 days, from Oct. 4 to 16. Those voting stations will be located at Parkland Mall, Baymont by Wyndham, and Westerner Park.
“We’re really encouraging people to get out and vote early. Absolutely any eligible voter can go to one of our advanced votes. We would love to see them come out from Oct. 4 to 16 and that will hopefully limit some of those crowds on Election Day.”
On Election Day voting stations will also be set up at eight larger facilities instead of 31 small voting stations. And people can vote at any voting station that they want instead of having to go a specific voting station.
She said safety is the top priority so hand sanitizer, physical distancing, and other measures will be in place at every voting station.
Rodwell said the election team will analyze the success of the changes and will consider implementing them in future elections.
“We always take learning lessons from past elections and apply them to the future. We think that in handling our pandemic operations, we’ve also made voting a lot more convenient. We’re excited to see how voters respond.”
Red Deer voters will be choosing the next mayor and eight councillors, as well as either public or Catholic school trustees on Oct. 18.
Information about Red Deer’s 2021 Election, including a voting station map, a list of current candidates and their submitted profiles, is available at elections.reddeer.ca.
— With files from The Canadian Press