Bring your own pencil: Advance polls open in Simcoe Muskoka with new safety measures

Many voters in Barrie took the first opportunity to cast their ballot, with long lines forming outside polling stations Friday as advanced voting got underway.

Experts say much remains unknown in what has already been an election unlike any other.

A visiting politics professor at York University says voters are going to notice COVID-19 safety measures in place.

"There will be a bit longer lines, there'll be social distancing, they are going to take some information so they can do contact tracing," says Michael Johns. "So everyone who is going to vote needs to be prepared that it might take just a little bit longer."

Polls opened across the country at 9 a.m. Friday, with some voters in Barrie saying they waited 40 minutes to cast their ballot.

Aside from new safety measures delaying procedures, part of the issue is school boards across Simcoe Muskoka have opted out of hosting polling stations, saying it goes against COVID-19 protocols, leading to fewer voting locations.

In Barrie-Springwater-Oro Medonte, there are 65 locations, compared to 75 in 2019. It's a similar story in the riding of Barrie-Innisfil, where there are 31 compared to 35 in the most recent election.

But with so much on the line, some voters tell CTV News it's still worth it.

"It's too important for people today to come out and do their vote," says June Torres, who cast her ballot ahead of an upcoming trip. "They have to make their voices heard and be sure that they get that all-important vote in."

MAIL-IN BALLOTS

Experts anticipated a surge in mail-in ballots with the COVID-19 pandemic in the midst of the fourth wave, but uptake appears to be less than first expected.

In Barrie-Springwater-Oro Medonte, just over 2,000 mail-in kits had been requested, with only slightly more requested in the riding of Barrie-Innisfil.

Johns says turnout, whether at the advanced polls or by mail, will be significant in terms of the overall outcome.

"If the numbers are really low, if people are not going to take the time to do the mail-in ballots and aren't comfortable going in and voting, then it changes the election," Johns says. "It changes the election into a get out the vote campaign where you are desperately trying to get out everyone you know that supports your party."

Advanced polls are open daily, 9 a.m to 9 p.m, throughout the weekend and Monday. The deadline to request a mail-in kit is 6 p.m. Tues., Sept. 14.

Those voting in-person must make sure to bring their voter card, a piece of identification and a mask.

Elections Canada is also asking people to bring their own pencil, however, there will be single-use options available.