With the longest election campaign in recent history coming to an end, Canadians are eager to cast their ballots – at least that’s what the numbers at the advanced polling stations are indicating.
“We’re overwhelmed – totally overwhelmed. We needed a second poll, a second box. Normally we just have the one but we should have had two. Yesterday [Friday], when we opened the poll at 12 p.m., we had people lined up at the door,” said Gayle Vallance, poll supervisor at the Fernie location. “We had 20 people waiting right at 12 p.m. and it never got shorter than that. People were waiting – some people waited an hour and a half. That was the longest wait we had.”
Vallance said that she reached out to the regional Elections Canada office in Nelson for advice, but there wasn’t much she could do. “I phoned the returning officer and told him of the situation and he said it’s the same right across Canada,” she said. “It’s wonderful that this number of people are getting up to vote but it is hard on us as officials because we don’t like to see people have to stand around for that long.”
Vallance said there were chairs provided for people’s comfort while waiting, but that was all she could do.
“It’s a long weekend and people were here voting because they were going to be away so they wouldn’t have another opportunity to vote and I think there is just a lot of interest in the election this time,” she said, adding that “I’ve pretty much been poll supervisor – central poll supervisor – for every election in Fernie since the early 1990s, and this is the busiest I’ve seen in all that time.”
The Sparwood advanced polling station saw a similar scene, with a record number of people coming out to vote early.
“Generally the advanced polls are not very busy,” said Betty Reader, poll supervisor at the Sparwood location. “We had a 165 voters on Friday and 143 on Saturday.”
Overall the Sparwood polling office saw nearly 700 early ballots cast, while the Fernie location nearly ran out of their original run of 1150 ballots by Monday afternoon. Vallance said that around 7:40 p.m., they had 1058 people vote early.
The polling staffs at both locations were busy from when the polls opened at 12 p.m. until they closed at 8 p.m., with little opportunity for breaks.
“We start at 11 a.m. setting things up and we are here until 8 p.m. and it’s tough work on the people who are working here because they don’t get any breaks for meals, we just kind of alternate positions a little bit so people can at least go and get a cup of coffee and then we try to give them time at supper time to go and get something to eat, but that is something that we organize as a group, it’s not mandated,” said Vallance.
Across Canada, 2.4 million people cast an early vote, which is a 16 per cent increase from 2011, and a record high early voter turn out.