'It's an honour,' Staff at polling stations in Simcoe County riding are ready for voters

The federal campaign is at the halfway point, and all the pieces appear to be falling into place for voters and election workers in the riding of Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte.

"We are busy because there's so much behind the scenes," returning officer Maura Bolger said.

Bolger secured accessible spaces for voters and hired staff to make the democracy machine run for nearly 20 years.

She credits her former job as a school board trustee for helping her anticipate what could have been a curveball.

On Wednesday, CTV News learned that the Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board had told Elections Canada its schools would not be available to use as polling stations.

"When the school boards were saying, 'We don't know,' I started to look for alternate locations, so I wasn't caught at the last minute," Bolger said.

She noted all voting locations had been booked for next weekend's advance polls.

A little over half of the 700 staff members required for Election Day have been hired; a benchmark Bolger said is in line with this point in the run-up to previous elections.

While some would-be election staff have decided to stay on the sidelines over COVID-19 concerns, Bolger said they aren't in big enough numbers to put staffing in jeopardy.

Bob George didn't give a second thought to returning to the job he's been doing for decades.

"It's my duty. It's an honour, and it's a privilege," George said.

For him, working in elections is a way to continue to give back after a career of service.

"I joined the army to preserve the beauty of this country and its democratic system," George said. "Then when I got posted overseas and saw other countries, I just see how blessed we are to have the country and the system we have. Some will say it isn't perfect, but boy, it's so much better than a lot of them. So I'm very proud to be part of that procedure," he added.

As a fully vaccinated resident, George feels the polling station will be safe for staff and voters.

The number of people sitting together has been reduced to respect physical distancing. Additionally, hand sanitizers and one-use pencils will be made available.

This spring, Elections Canada projected as many as a 3-million people might choose to vote by mail in a pandemic election.

By Thursday, 389,690 Canadians had registered to vote by mail ahead of the Sept. 14 deadline, compared to the roughly 50,000 people who dropped their ballot into a mailbox for the 2019 federal vote.