As New Brunswick’s party leaders campaigned across the province on Saturday, thousands of New Brunswickers voted in advanced polls, becoming the first Canadians to exercise their democratic right since the pandemic began.

Many polling stations reported lineups as soon as they opened their doors Saturday morning.

An hour before polls officially opened, Elections New Brunswick staff were making their final touches.

The job of running a polling station during a pandemic includes sanitizing tables and equipment, and ensuring that all voters wear masks, and stay six feet apart.

Elections New Brunswick says they spent over $1-million on personal protective equipment.

“We calculated our numbers of what we ordered for face masks and hand sanitizer, and all of those things based on the number of polling locations and the number of electors in the province,” says Kim Poffenroth, Elections N.B. Chief Electoral Officer. “We also have access to backup supplies from public safety if we require.

Prior to Saturday, 32,000 had voted through a special ballot, either at a nursing home, returning office or through the mail.

As of Saturday afternoon, over 36,000 New Brunswickers had voted through advanced polls- already more than 11,000 more ballots cast than in 2018.

Despite some lineups, voters at one Fredericton location said voting was a quick process, and they felt safe.

“It took about five minutes and they sanitized everything, they wearing face shields, so I didn’t feel any concerns,” said one voter.

“I felt very safe, and it was actually quite quick and efficient, so it was great,” said another voter.

“People were respectful, people kept the two metre distance, and almost everybody was wearing a mask. I think it was a very responsible and safe experience,” said another voter.

While they felt comfortable voting, some still voiced disappointment that an election was happening.

“I was very upset because I didn’t feel the people should be out around everybody,” said one voter. “We’re in a pandemic. That’s why I walked over here to come to this, where there wasn’t a whole lot of people.”

“I’m glad that people are turning out, but I wasn’t excited to see an election this time,” said another voter. “But if we’re going to have it, do it, vote, get heard and move on.”

Advanced polls continued until 8 p.m. Saturday night, and another round of advanced polls are scheduled for Tuesday, but voters can past their ballot on any day next week at their returning office.

Two years ago, 67% of New Brunswickers voted in the last provincial election. 

But officials say is still too early to say what a snap election during a pandemic will mean for voter turnout.