A Vancouver woman is calling on Elections Canada to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for poll workers before doors open to in-person voters for the federal election later this month.
Denise McFaul, a 58-year-old retired teacher, had hopes of becoming a poll worker after watching voting stations being set up in her school over the years.
She said she was thrilled to sign up and attend the training session for Elections Canada staff on Monday.
But after learning that staff would not be required to be fully vaccinated, she and her husband, Rob, quit.
“Potentially we could be working for 14 hours … in a room with someone else that’s not vaccinated,” McFaul said. “That was a deciding factor for us.”
A vaccine card will be required for many non-essential activities in British Columbia starting on Sept. 13 — one week before the federal election.
The plan will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who wants to attend a concert, sporting event, movie, restaurant, nightclub, casino or fitness class.
McFaul said she had assumed that a polling station is considered a public place and therefore every worker would be required to be vaccinated, and she’s confused why that’s not happening.
“I definitely find that uncomfortable. I was relieved to know that we would have to be double vaccinated in many situations and have to validate that,” she said.
Andrea Marantz, a B.C. spokesperson for Elections Canada, said the policies were developed in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“We came up with a series of measures and were assured by our partners … we would be able to operate a safe election during the pandemic,” she said.
Elections Canada says vaccines not mandated for staff
Marantz said while she can empathize with how McFaul feels, she has complete faith in the precautions and COVID-19 safety measures being put in place not just for voters but for staff.
Some of these measures include single-use pencils, physical-distancing markers, plexiglass, reduced staff and no handling of ID cards.
“They’ll have very little interaction with anyone at the polls. We’re used to seeing polls with two people sitting very close side by side and talking,” Marantz said. “That’s not going to be the case this year. The polling place is going to look very different this year.”
She said most of the people who usually work for Elections Canada are 55 and older.
“That coincides with the section of the population that is most vaccinated. So those numbers from [the] 55 and over age group for vaccinations are roughly 80 per cent. So there’s every reason that we should expect that should be reflected in the people that are working at Elections Canada as well,” Marantz said.
While polling stations will still be in schools and community centres, she said, they won’t be in all of the usual locations. Extra safety measures are also in place to assess what sites have the safest entry and exit points for voters and staff.
But McFaul said Elections Canada is making a poor choice if vaccines aren’t going to be mandated for staff at polling stations.
“We’re part of the problem, then, if we are running a polling station without being double vaccinated,” she said. “We are running the risk that [COVID-19] could be spread.”