Huge turnout on first day causes frustration and anger
The first day of advance polls at the Virgil arena and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre were chaotic and disorganized, resulting in long waits and some people leaving without casting a ballot, some residents say.
Large numbers of NOTL voters flocked to the polls early to cast ballots and that led to some frayed tempers and angry residents, poll workers said.
However, at NOTL's third advance poll location, the Holiday Inn Express in Glendale, no problems were reported.
More voters turned out than ever before for the first day of advance polls across the country, Elections Canada official Nathalie de Montigny told The Lake Report. And NOTL was no different.
She said that on Friday, 8,093 turned out across the riding, which includes NOTL, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. In the 2019 federal election, only 5,837 people voted on the first day, she noted.
Across the country, this year more than 1.3 million votes were cast on the first day of advance polling, the organization said in a tweet.
Niagara advance polls were open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Monday and by the end of the first three days the riding had 6,000 more votes cast than during the same period for the previous election, she said.
Though she outlined several reasons for the delays during the early days of advance polling, Montigny did not use them as an excuse.
“We apologize. Elections Canada wants to apologize if there was waiting (and) long lines in some places,” she said.
The riding's advance polls were busier than ever before, she said.
One problem was the snap election left the organization less time to prepare than for previous elections, she said.
NOTLers tend to arrive early or right on time for community events and the early part of the first day of advance polls is traditionally the busiest.
“I don’t know if people are eager to vote or they want to make sure they can cast their ballot. Whatever the reason is, there seems to be more people showing up on the first day,” Montigny said in an interview Monday.
Montigny said some of the long wait times were simply a product of bad timing.
“We do not control the amount of people that are showing up and when they show up,” she said.
Montigny was reluctant to blame the long wait times on COVID-19 precautions but did say the process was slightly slowed down due to the extra steps required.
Elections Canada workers have had to gather names and phone numbers for every voter for contact tracing, she said.
It was also difficult for the organization to prepare for a snap election as opposed to a fixed date election. This election was given the shortest legally allowed time span to run — only 36 days.
One area where this affected Elections Canada was hiring workers.
“It’s been a particular challenge during this election because of the pandemic and because of the fact that it’s a short election,” Montigny said.
On voting day, Elections Canada becomes one of the biggest employers in the country, with roughly 250,000 Canadians working to oversee the democratic process, she said.
NOTL resident Steve Hardaker voted in Glendale at the Holiday Inn Express. He said he had no issues.
“We waited for about 15 minutes. One lady who voted before us said she waited 35 minutes. People in our neighbourhood who voted Saturday morning said there was no wait,” Hardaker told The Lake Report.
Kaspar Pold, 80, left his advance poll in Virgil due to the long wait and said the polling station was not accommodating for seniors.
“My wait out in the sun was about 20 minutes and had to be standing. There were no chairs for older people,” Pold said in an email.
When he got to the front doors he was told the wait inside was about another hour.
“I couldn’t believe that so I asked some questions and became quite agitated,” Pold said.
He said an Elections Canada worker told him the wait was because there was only one polling station set up inside the arena due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
Pold said he and others left instead of waiting in the long line.
Similar concerns were echoed by Greg Chapman in a Facebook post to the group NOTL 4 ALL.
“I’m glad I got my mom a mail-in ballot,” he said after noting the lack of chairs available for seniors.
In a comment on his Facebook post Chapman said he waited for over an hour to vote. George Robinson commented that he waited 65 minutes.
“There HAS to be a better way!” Chapman commented.
Cathy Franklin commented that the experience was a “nightmare” and said there was no sanitizer and people not wearing masks.
NOTL resident Peter Rider was fed up with the complaints.
“Are we not still in a pandemic … still taking precautions because of COVID???” Rider commented on the post.
“This has got nothing to do with politics as some might think or lack of organization. It’s advanced voting, during a health crisis.”
Hardaker saw the Friday crowds as a good thing.
“I think it’s great that people want to vote early. If that means extra wait time then that is OK. COVID restrictions do happen,” he said.
Montigny shared a similar sentiment, saying, “In a way, it is good news that people wanted to get out and vote.”
Ian and Sharon Gillespie were likewise happy to see the community centre brimming with eager voters.
“That’s what we want, a good turnout,” Sharon said in an interview.
“The population will speak and we’ll have to see what they say.”
The Gillespies both said their biggest concerns this election were the environment and childcare.
“We have to provide for the future,” Ian said.
NOTL resident Paul Boudreau said his biggest concern this election is COVID-19.
Boudreau wanted a strong response to the pandemic and lamented his frustrations with those who refuse to get the vaccine.
“I was a firefighter, so this not getting vaccinated I do not understand whatsoever,” he said in an interview on Friday.
“I mean, it’s the only way to stop (the pandemic).”
He was also frustrated with the Liberals calling an election during the pandemic and that it is costing roughly $600 million of taxpayer money to run.
“(Liberals) are screaming about no housing, they’re screaming about no nurses, they’re screaming about no doctors, they’re screaming about old age homes they can’t pay for — and we’re spending ($600 million on the election),” Boudreau said.
Boudreau said he would be supporting the Conservatives.
Over the weekend, and on Monday, Sept. 13, the lines had all but abated. There was a small lineup outside of the community centre around noon Monday, but everyone said they had been waiting no more than five minutes before entering the community centre.
Darrell Boer was waiting in line and said his biggest election issue has always been government spending.
“I’m afraid for the future for my kids,” Boer said.