Vote where? Fewer polling stations in London, Ont. threatens turnout on election day

It’s going to be a much longer trip for many Londoners to cast a vote than in previous federal elections, particularly in the riding of London North Centre.

“Delta Hotel London Armouries,” reads Al Hobbs from the Voter Information Card that just arrived in his mailbox.

Hobbs usually votes inside Cherryhill Village Mall, a short trip from his home on Beaverbrook Avenue.

Casting his ballot this election will require travelling about 5.4km to Downtown London, a 10 minute drive, 20 minute bike ride, or over an hour to walk.

“Most of our seniors here in our condos have limited mobility,” explains Hobbs who has already filed a complaint with Elections Canada.

Elections Canada is responsible for choosing the number and locations of polling stations.

“About 50 per cent of our polling locations in the last election were unavailable to us (this year),” explains Paul Joudrey, Returning Officer for London North Centre. “It’s because of the pandemic, social distancing, and landlords not being interested in being part of the process.”

The London North Centre riding had 73 polling stations on Election Day in 2019. This election it’s about 44.

To fill the gap, four large downtown locations will host multiple polls on Election Day:

• Budweiser Gardens

• Delta Hotel London Armouries

• The DoubleTree by Hilton

• RBC Place Convention Centre

City hall will also make municipal parking free on Election Day to minimize concerns voters may have travelling downtown.

Elections Canada says it has has worked closely with the Middlesex-London Health Unit to ensure each location has pandemic procedures in place, incorporating best-practices learned at mass vaccination clinics.

Voters are also encouraged to consider advanced polls which may be in more convenient locations.

Several candidates in London North Centre are concerned that fewer locations and longer travel times could reduce voter turnout.

“They’re voting far from their home and that’s not an acceptable situation. I look at that and share the concern that people have,” says Liberal candidate Peter Fragiskatos.

“I am concerned because London North Centre is one of the areas that has seen decreasing voter turn out in recent years,” says NDP candidate Dirka Prout.

Conservative candidate Stephen Gallant told CTV News by telephone that he encourages people to pre-plan how they intend to vote.

Hobbs predicts many of his neighbours will still find it too great of a challenge to vote this year.

“We’ll have a low voter turn out from the senior population I expect, people just can’t get there.”

Also running in London North Centre are Mary Ann Hodge for the Green Party and Marc Emery for the People’s Party of Canada.