When Sharon Danley, campaign manager for the Green Party, went to St. James Cathedral to place her vote in advance for the Toronto Centre by-election, she arrived to find an hour-long lineup, the returning officer (RO) missing, and voters without election cards. This prompted Danley to send a complaint to Elections Canada (EC), where she accused the organization of voter suppression.
“In my opinion, these actions are akin to voter suppression, and speaking for myself only, I am outraged,” Danley wrote. Among Danley’s concerns was the placement of the polling station, which she claimed was difficult to access. “The polling station for election day is several blocks away from where we have normally voted for years. We are a building of elderly, reduced mobility, and disabled people making it extremely difficult to vote,” Danley said.
Danley was also dissatisfied with the waiting time at the polling station. “People were leaving without voting because they couldn’t wait that long,” she alleged. Angela Zhu, treasurer of the University of Toronto New Democrats and a volunteer on the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Linda McQuaig’s campaign, received two similar complaints. The NDP office received at least one message from a man who complained of long lines at a polling booth near Regent Park.
Lauren Tedesco, a spokesperson for Liberal Party candidate Chrystia Freeland’s campaign, said that the Liberal Party was satisfied with the execution of the advanced polling.
“Running election day and advanced polls can be a monumental task, and there are always logistical challenges and room for improvement. It would be helpful to have more staff and better trained staff, but we are satisfied with the way the advance polls ran, and we commend Elections Canada staff — both the management folks and the casual staff who came in for just a few days, for their diligent efforts,” Tedesco said.
Diane Benson, media relations at EC, dismissed Danley’s claims. “The EC does not own the locations where the polling stations are situated, and that their availability is not always guaranteed for election time,” she stated. Benson explained that EC requires that polling stations meet extensive accessibility criteria, and that each RO has an accessibility checklist for when they rent locations.
Benson does not believe that Danley’s experience constitutes voter suppression, as the problems Danley encountered were not disruptions of the electoral process intended to prevent voting. Benson suggested that the RO may have been at training during Danley’s visit, or in the returning office, taking care of other duties. ROs are partially responsible for training the 800 staff members who work at the polls during election time.
In regard to the issues of voters without elections cards, Benson clarified the process by which EC tries to ensure that each voter receives an election card: the voter receives an election card in the post, followed by a reminder a week later, asking the voter to check that they received their card, and that all the details on it are correct.