Early-bird voters incensed by long waits, new rules

Greater Victoria voters braving long lineups to cast ballots in Friday’s advance polls called it an infuriating experience due to solitary voting booths and increased scrutiny of identification documents.

“It’s an organizational nightmare,” said Bob Bridgeman, 65, as he and his wife, Kristi, approached hour two in the lineup at Braefoot Elementary School in Saanich. The couple will be attending a family funeral in Alberta on election day, Oct. 19.

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“I’m furious. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “There’s one little table with two people verifying who are you so you can vote, and a long, long lineup inching along.”

Bridgeman’s frustrations were echoed by voters around Greater Victoria and across Canada.

Elections Canada said volumes were within normal ranges, but the first day of advance voting resulted in lengthy waits for many voters.

Also at Braefoot Friday was a fatigued Margaret Palmeter, 90, who called the situation “appalling.” She was so determined to cast her ballot in the federal election that she waited close to three hours. Palmeter was part of a busload of people driven over from their seniors’ home.

“At least I’m sitting down,” said Dene Mainguy, who uses a wheelchair, and came on the same bus. “Mind you, I nearly fell asleep a couple of times.” The 82-year-old wondered if she would ever be able to vote again in such circumstances.

Elections Canada spokeswoman Dorothy Sitek said the first day of advance voting is “typically busy,” and declined to comment on whether a 90-minute wait is reasonable, noting that voters arrive at their own convenience.

Advance voting continues today through Monday, eight hours a day, she said, noting there is also still time to vote using mail-in ballots or by special ballot at the returning office. The deadline for those options is Oct. 13.

Former Victoria councillor and NDP MP Lynn Hunter said it was frustrating to wait more than an hour at James Bay Community School when the poll opened. Staff were as pleasant as possible and phoned headquarters to alert them of the waiting throng, but it didn’t make a difference, she said.

Hunter hopes that staffing will increase today, saying it is incumbent on Elections Canada to facilitate voting.

She also expressed concerns about new identification requirements after her husband, Don Armstrong, was turned away for not having ID with his address on it — despite having his passport, social insurance card and CareCard with him.

Hunter called the new election law “over the top,” and noted that someone with three pieces of ID and their voting card is not a likely candidate for fraud.

Kasey Lee, voting in the Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke riding, waited for more than an hour to vote at the Victorian at McKenzie retirement home, and said a staffer scrutinized her driver’s licence for a full 30 seconds.

Lee said it was “shameful” that there was only one booth available. “I was livid at the time,” she said. “From what I hear, every poll was the same today. Only one booth, long lines, exasperated people.”

Lee said she has voted in advance polls before and “there was never anything like this. There were a lot of seniors there but nobody could stand for that long and there were no chairs and no water, there was nothing.”

Newcomers were warned about the long wait, prompting some to leave. “What concerned me was that they’re not going to come back,” Lee said. “Maybe that was their one chance.”

Granted, a couple of people left because they wanted to see the Blue Jays playoff game, she added.

“Chaos at Sidney advanced poll,” said an email to the Times Colonist from Ian Heath. “One teller and voting booth open. Line up taking 13Ú4 hours to vote. Lots of elderly, totally frustrated and angry.”

Heath, who gave up after 90 minutes, suggested advance polls should be restricted to people who won’t be here on election day.

By late in the afternoon, crowds had died down at other sites, such as Oaklands Middle School. At Central Middle School, there were only six people waiting, although the wait had been as long as 80 minutes for much of the afternoon, staff said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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