Voters who are isolating in the St. John’s area due to the COVID-19 outbreak will be allowed to cast a ballot in Saturday’s Newfoundland and Labrador election using a drive-thru voting site, Elections NL said Wednesday.
A drive-thru polling station is being set up in a large parking lot near West Block of the Confederation Building in St. John’s, the agency said in a news release.
Only voters in isolation will be able to use the site, it said.
With community transmission confirmed by public health in the metro area Tuesday when more than 30 new cases were recorded, the outbreak has placed at least 1,500 people in isolation just days ahead of the election.
But Bruce Chaulk, the chief electoral officer with Elections NL, said there may not be as many voters affected as those numbers first suggest.
“My understanding with the Department of Health is that a significant number of the people that are in isolation are actually not of voting age,” Chaulk told CBC News Wednesday. “They’re actually below voting age, so they’re not impacted by it, but it could be their families or close contacts.”
People looking to cast a ballot will be required to show proper proof of identification. They will also be required to swear an oath and have their contact information recorded in case there is a future need for contact tracing.
The drive-thru will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. NT Saturday.
The option will likely be welcome news for voters like Gary Dawson, who learned this week a case of COVID-19 had been connected to his kids’ after-school program, and he would have to isolate at home for 14 days — meaning he wouldn’t be free to roam until a week after Election Day.
“I’ve been voting ever since I had the ability to vote,” Dawson said. “I think it’s something everybody should take seriously. So not being able to vote, I take very seriously.”
Dawson said he normally tries to cast his ballot in advance polls, but this year — given all three major parties waited until over halfway through the campaign to release their platforms — he hadn’t yet made his decision.
Advance poll voting happened on Feb. 6, while the deadline for mail-in ballots passed on Feb. 2. The option to apply for a special ballot that could be dropped off at an Elections NL site ended on Jan. 23.
In-person voting safe, says Chaulk
Meanwhile, Chaulk said the drive-thru will not be extended to seniors or other people with concerns about their health.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has signed off on all procedures in other polling stations, said Chaulk, and all steps have been taken to make casting a ballot as safe as possible.
“It is a very short process, and if you’re on the list, then you should only be in there for a few minutes and there should be no prolonged exposure to anybody in a voting station,” he said.
“We are very confident in our voting process at the polls.”
New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have all held general elections amid the pandemic, and “with a lot more community spread than we currently have,” said Chaulk
Some staff have backed out of working the election, but Chaulk said that is a normal occurrence and some staff may be moved between districts if needed.
The Mount Pearl-Southlands returning office just outside St. John’s shut down Wednesday after someone connected to the office tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unclear what disruption that could cause on Saturday, if any.
“We’re still evaluating that particular impact. The returning officer himself can pretty much work from home and finish off the process of getting people ready for the election on Saturday,” said Chaulk.
“We may have to replace a few additional workers, it depends on when the testing comes back on some of those people.”