Elections Canada says it will not require its workers on election day to be vaccinated, but says it is taking steps to ensure long-term care and retirement home residents will be able to vote safely in the federal election on Sept. 20.
The pledge comes after the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) called on Elections Canada to implement specific measures to protect residents from COVID-19 when they cast their ballots. The association represents 70 per cent of Ontario’s 630 long-term care homes.
Matthew McKenna, spokesperson for Elections Canada, said in an email on Friday that the health and safety of residents and staff at the homes is a top priority for the agency. Elections Canada is working with retirement and long-term care homes to ensure the vote is safe, he said.
McKenna added that residents who are eligible to vote will be able to cast ballots either at the homes where they live or through other means, including mail-in voting.
“The voting options available will vary from facility to facility, depending on the health and safety measures in place and whether facility administrators are able to support on-site voting services,” McKenna said in the email.
According to the latest Ontario data, a total of 3,975 long-term care residents and 10 health-care workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have died.
Elections Canada to provide voting options
According to Elections Canada, voters at retirement and long-term care homes will be able to cast ballots in one of the following ways, depending on the situation at their facility:
- At a polling station on site: A polling station will be set up at the home at a date and time determined by the operator and Elections Canada.
- Through coordinated special ballot voting: Staff at the home will work with the local Elections Canada office to provide voters with a special ballot application and voting kit. They may also help them with their application.
- By mail: Voters will apply independently to vote using the vote-by-mail process.
McKenna said voters in the facilities will each receive a notice from Elections Canada, delivered by staff at the homes, that will have information about where, when and how voting will take place. Notices will be delivered about two weeks before election day.
Eligible residents will also receive voter information cards and most homes will put up posters with information about the voting options available to residents, he added.
Elections Canada expects workers it hires to be vaccinated
McKenna said the agency expects the majority of people hired to work at the election will have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“While vaccination is not a prerequisite for working at the election, we anticipate that — given vaccination rates across Canada and data about our workforce’s demographic profile — the majority of personnel who would be hired at the call of a federal election will have been vaccinated as per the provincial or territorial vaccine rollout plans,” he said.
“Returning officers will hire vaccinated workers where possible and will prioritize fully vaccinated election officers to serve vulnerable populations, such as those living in long-term care facilities or First Nations communities, in collaboration with measures in place in those communities, if election officers have to go there in person.”
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said in an interview on Friday that it’s important that Elections Canada preserve the right of residents to vote while protecting them from COVID-19.
“We’re very concerned about the health and safety and well-being of our residents in long-term care. We know that, in wave one and wave two, that it was our seniors in our long-term care residences across Canada, but most especially in Ontario, who were devastatingly hit by the virus,” Duncan said.
“We are now in the fourth wave, we’re dealing with the delta variant in Ontario and we’re starting to mobilize for booster shots for our seniors, but that is going to take time. We know that our seniors were vaccinated over nine months and are vulnerable to breakthrough. We’re starting to see the breakthrough,” she added.
“We’re disappointed that Elections Canada has said it will not mandate vaccinations for its workers. We know that the primary weapon against this disease and the primary weapon we have to protect our residents is vaccines.”
The association is calling on Elections Canada to incorporate the following “guiding principles” into the voting process:
- Minimize usage of space: A polling station in a long-term care home should be restricted to that home’s residents, essential caregivers and staff to protect the most vulnerable. If not possible, the association says it is open to alternatives to voting in person, including mail-in ballots or outdoor polling stations.
- Enhanced safety protocols: The association says it believes COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for Elections Canada workers assigned to long-term care homes and scrutineers from political parties sent to oversee the voting process. If not possible, it says it believes Elections Canada should manage the cost and burden of coordinating testing and personal protective equipment. For homes in outbreak, it says no one should enter the building and there should be a contingency plan to enable residents to cast their ballots.
- Priority planning: The association says it wants Elections Canada to implement a safety plan for long-term care residents as soon as possible, then begin working with homes in each community to implement it immediately.
“Our message extends to political parties, and candidates and canvassers who visit our long-term care homes,” Duncan said.
“We cannot risk the progress we have made on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, especially as we enter the fall with a possible fourth wave fueled by the Delta variant, so we ask that you be vaccinated and respect all our residents, families and staff have been through and be cooperative with our health measures.”