Long lineups at polling stations frustrated a number of Canadians as advance voting began across the country on Friday, but Elections Canada said volumes were within normal ranges.
There had been concerns that the Conservative government’s new election law — which tightened identification requirements — could create headaches for certain Canadians, but Elections Canada said they were working to ensure everyone who wanted to vote would get a chance to do so.
Nonetheless, the first few hours of advance polling resulted in lengthy waits for a number of voters.
In Hamilton, Mark Cripps waited an hour and a half to cast his ballot and said polling staff seemed overwhelmed at the crowds who had shown up.
“All the lineups were huge,” said the 48-year-old. “It didn’t seem like they were prepared or they didn’t expect this many people to come out.”
Everyone in Cripps’s line had to go through one official who filled out paperwork for each voter, specifying their name and address before getting a signature, he said. The bottleneck got so bad that extra staff were called in, he said.
Cripps noted that polling officials were identifying handicapped and elderly voters and helping them move ahead faster, although that caused some friction amongst others in line.
“I saw people leave,” he said. “Tons of people leave.”
Talia Johnson was one voter who decided not to wait in line when a polling official told her the wait at her Ottawa advance polling station was up to 40 minutes.
“There were a lot of people,” she said. “In the past when I used advance polls the waits haven’t been very long at all.”
Steve Armstrong also expected a smoother experience when he voted in Calgary.
The 54-year-old said his advance polling station was located in a small room with about 100 people in line before it opened.
While Armstrong waited 20 minutes to vote, he said the lineup appeared to be even longer when he left.
“The fact that they were caught off guard by people wanting to vote was disconcerting to say the least,” he said. “It was just poorly organized.”
Elections Canada said some lineups were typical at the start of advance polling.
“It is normal, especially on the first day,” said spokeswoman Natalie Babin-Dufresne. “We thank electors for their patience.”
Babin-Dufresne said Elections Canada had not received reports of any significant problems by Friday afternoon and noted that polling officials were able to call in extra staff when needed.
“It’s great to see electors out there on the first day,” she said. “Our best advice is the same advice we give throughout, to come prepared.”
Babin-Dufresne noted that voting wasn’t expected to be a lengthier process due to the recent changes to the election law.
The law requires voters to have a piece of photo identification with an address, such as a driver’s license, or two pieces of identification with one of them bearing the voter’s current address.
It also ends the practice of vouching, in which a properly identified voter can vouch for the identity of someone lacking complete ID.
If a person’s identification doesn’t have an address, a voter can now take an oath, show two pieces of ID with their name and have someone who knows them attest to their address — that person must show proof of identity and address and be registered in the same polling division.
Advance polling runs until Monday.
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press