Some Toronto-area voters wait hours after polls close amid massive lineups at voting locations

A massive lineup stretched around at least one voting location in the GTA as polls closed in Canada’s first pandemic-era election Monday night.

Huge lineups of people stretched around the building at the Trio Sportsplex and Event Centre in the riding of King-Vaughan at 9:30 p.m., with some people reporting that they had waited as long as 90 minutes or so to cast their ballots.

“It’s a long wait,” one woman told CP24, adding that the line had backed up so far that she was almost next to traffic on Highway 400. She called the situation “dangerous.”

Others said there was little communication about the delays.

York Regional Police said they were called out to the voting station to help provide crowd control due to the large number of people creating a traffic hazard at around 7:40 p.m.

York Regional Police Staff Sgt. Dave Mitchell told CP24 that there appeared to be a large “surge” at the voting station in the final few hours of voting.

“So that created a bit of an issue, a traffic safety issue. We even had reports of people stopping their cars and getting out onto the 400 and trying to walk in that way,” he said

Mitchell said crowding had been on the police service’s radar as a potential Election Night issue “region-wide” and added “there are other locations within our region that are experiencing a bit of an overload.”

One man belonging to a nearby mosque said he spotted the lineup and stopped to hand out water.

“There was one lady, she was a diabetic. She asked for some food, and I had nothing, so I knew it will take me a long time I have sent somebody to go grab something,” he said.

Some people exiting the building said the facility was being shared with indoor soccer games that were underway at the same time.  

“Truly sorry for the line-ups. The schools would not allow Elections Canada in and there was no available City sites, so many polls were located at the Sportsplex. I appreciate your patience,” Liberal incumbent Deb Schulte wrote on Twitter.

There were also reports of people waiting as long as two hours to vote at a polling station at Camp Samac in Oshawa.

Election Canada confirmed that everyone who had lined up by 9:30 p.m. would be able to vote. As of 11 p.m., a handful of people were still waiting to vote, with police making sure nobody joined the line.

The massive lineups follow a drastic reduction in polling sites for this election. A number of school boards refused to allow their facilities as polling stations due to fears over COVID-19 transmission.

King – Vaughan was one of the affected ridings, with just 21 polling stations in this election, compared to 54 in the 2019 election, a 61.4 per cent drop.

Elections Canada had said that there would be fewer polling stations in some ridings, but that the changes would be offset by having larger facilities.

Elsewhere Monday, long lineups were reported outside some polling stations across the Greater Toronto Area as residents cast their ballots.

Eleven GTA ridings, including the downtown ridings of Toronto Centre, Spadina-Fort York, and University-Rosedale, saw a more than 50 per cent reduction in the number of polling stations this year compared to 2019 and another four GTA ridings have more than 40 per cent fewer polling sites.

In Toronto Centre, which saw the biggest cut, there are just 15 polling stations for election day this year, compared to 91 during the last election.

Voters in various ridings could be seen lining up to cast their ballot before polling stations opened at 9:30 a.m. and there were reports of long waits at some polling stations throughout the day.

"I can't believe this. I waited over an hour, just about an hour I would say, to get in (a) line that goes all the way around the corner to vote here. I walked here because I knew that it would be a zoo," a Vaughan resident said after casting his ballot.

"The traffic is unbelievable. People are not going to be able to park."

Another voter called the lineup outside her polling station "ridiculous."

"You can see the lineups. You can see the crowds. It is during COVID. I have a baby at home so for me this is not convenient. This is not fun," she said.

Elections Canada said Monday evening there had been a “disruption in voting services” at several polling stations in the Davenport riding, but that voting had since resumed.

Dugald Maudsley, a spokesperson for Elections Canada, told CP24 that voters need to be “patient” this year.

“We know that one of the most popular times to vote is just after dinner so if you can avoid that time then that would help and might make your time at the polling station go more quickly,” he said on Monday morning.

“Be patient. It is an unusual election. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Things are going to be different this year than they have been in the past and we just want everyone to contribute to making this as healthy and safe as possible.”

Maudsley said precautions have been taken to ensure that voters are safe when entering polling locations.

“There will be social distancing. There will be sanitation stations. Everyone at Elections Canada will be wearing a mask. If you don't have a mask, we have lots of them, and we offer you one,” he said.

He noted that those without a valid medical exemption who refuse to wear a mask will be turned away from polling stations.

“If you are symptomatic then we would suggest that you do the correct thing, consider that you may have COVID symptoms and you are probably best to not go in and vote,” Maudsley said  

- With files from The Canadian Press