OTTAWA — Tens of thousands of Canadians living abroad, including those not travelling home because of the pandemic, have applied to vote remotely in the coming election.
Over 45,000 Canadians have already registered for postal ballots from abroad, as experts predict that record numbers of overseas residents will vote in the forthcoming election.
But embassies have warned that delays to postal systems due to COVID-19 could hamper expatriates' ability to vote in time for polling day.
A number of diplomatic posts are offering to courier ballots back to Ottawa in time for the election.
There are an estimated 2.8 million adult Canadians living abroad who are eligible to vote, if they can provide a previous address and proof of citizenship.
They must register to vote with Elections Canada and their ballots have to arrive in Ottawa by 6 p.m. on election day.
The Canadian Expat Association, which represents Canadians abroad, predicted there would be a “slight uptick” in the number of overseas Canadians voting during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the last election when over 30,000 Canadians cast their votes from overseas.
The Consulate General in Hong Kong, where around 300,000 Canadians live, is among the diplomatic posts offering to deliver completed postal ballots to Ottawa by courier.
Diplomatic staff in Hong Kong have been proactively reaching out to Canadians to inform them how to register to vote, and about voting deadlines.
In New Zealand, the Canadian High Commission has warned Canadians wishing to vote about delays to the postal service due to COVID.
The High Commission warned that “New Zealand post is experiencing longer delays than usual as a result of the pandemic.” To get their ballot to Ottawa before the deadline on polling day, Canadians could mail it to the High Commission in advance which would pay for it to be sent to Canada.
It has also warned that to receive ballots, Canadians should “ensure that you can safely access the address you provide to Elections Canada (where your ballot is being sent) during lockdown.”
Canadians based abroad during the election can register to vote online in the riding they last lived in. They are sent ballots to return in prepaid envelopes to Ottawa.
Overseas voters have been warned by Elections Canada they have until Sept. 14 to register for a ballot.
“We encourage electors who are interested in voting to apply as soon as possible,” a spokesman said. “These ballots need to get back to Ottawa by 6 p.m. eastern time on election day.”
Allan Nichols, CEO of the Canadian Expats Association, said he expected there to be "a slight uptick" in the number of overseas votes cast at this election from overseas.
"Of the 2.8 million Canadians overseas, it is a very tiny number who will exercise their right to vote," he said. "But having the right to vote is exceptionally important."
In the 2019 election, 34,144 Canadians voted from overseas, the highest number on record. It was the first poll which allowed all Canadians living abroad to participate, following a change to the law which extended the right to vote to all Canadians abroad, regardless of how long they had been outside the country.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2021.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press