First-time Sask. voter says it's 'heartbreaking' she can't vote due to isolation

·4 min read

Casting her ballot in an election is a right of passage Rhianna Olson has been waiting for her whole life.

But now, due to a sore throat, she may have to wait four more years to make her vote count, as the 21-year-old is currently in self-isolation and has no avenue to cast her ballot.

"Just to be told that I can't vote was really honestly heartbreaking," she said, speaking to CBC from isolation.

Olson said she made numerous phone calls to election offices in Saskatoon to find out if there was any way she could vote safely while in isolation, but at every turn, she was told it just wasn't possible.

CBC Saskatoon reached out to Elections Saskatchewan on Sunday with questions about Olson's concerns, but a response was not immediately received.

Olson stressed that she's not angry with Elections Saskatchewan, as she understands they're just trying to keep people safe, but said she's frustrated that she — and others in a similar situation — won't have their voices heard.

"My problem is that hundreds of people are losing their vote right now, which I think is completely wrong," she said. "I just wish there was some way we could have our voices heard."

Supplied by Elections Saskatchewan
Supplied by Elections Saskatchewan

Olson feels Elections Saskatchewan should have taken this into consideration as they planned for the election during the pandemic.

She noted she doesn't want anyone to put their health at risk so people isolating can cast their vote, but says she feels there could have been a way to ensure everyone could cast their ballot if proper precautions were taken.

How can you predict you're going to be sick? - Rhianna Olson, Saskatchewan voter

Olson feels Elections Saskatchewan should have established a drive-thru, or phone-in, avenue where people awaiting test results could cast their ballots safely, noting she'd be willing to wear whatever personal protective equipment necessary to ensure people were kept safe as she cast her ballot.

"I understand that it's not one person's fault, I just wish someone would have thought this through," she said.

Concerns raised on social media

Her father, Trevor Olson, was also disappointed with the situation. He took to social media as a way to bring attention to the issue, as — like his daughter — he's worried many more are facing a similar scenario.

"We've always made provisions for people to be able to vote, no matter what kind of a situation they're in this country," he said. "So now, if we've got one, or 10, or 100 that can't, that's pretty near and dear to me, because the democratic process is important — very important — to me."

Elections Saskatchewan did respond to Olson's concerns online, but noted in the tweet that as of Sunday afternoon, the only way to vote was in person.

"At this point voting in-person is the option left," the electoral body said in the tweet. "Deadlines for vote by mail and extraordinary voting have passed."

Olson says she understands other options were available to vote and she wishes she took advantage of them, but said as a healthy 21-year-old, she never planned to get sick — and now she is just trying to do the right thing.

"How can you predict you're going to be sick?" she asked. "No one plans to be sick."

Olson said it was discouraging when she realized she won't be able to cast her ballot in the upcoming election, as she's a proud Saskatchewan resident and has lived in the province her whole life.

"I'm planning on staying here for the foreseeable future … just sad to know that my voice doesn't count this year," she said. "I've come to that realization and I'll definitely hope that there are measures put in place if this was ever to happen again."

Sask. Party leader acknowledges 'small gap' in voting options

Saskatchewan Media Pool
Saskatchewan Media Pool

The 2020 provincial election has seen both record numbers in terms of advanced voting and mail-in ballot requests, easily surpassing numbers recorded in the 2016 election.

For example, in Saskatchewan more than 61,000 mail-ballots have been approved for the 2020 election, compared to 4,420 in 2016, an increase of more than 1,200 per cent.

Advanced voting has also seen a large jump as 153,649 voters have already cast their ballot in 2020, an increase of roughly 38 per cent when compared to 2016.

On Sunday in Prince Albert, Scott Moe, leader of the incumbent Saskatchewan Party, acknowledged there is a "small gap" for those who are wanting to vote, but are unable to do so while in isolation.

While he noted Elections Saskatchewan has made "every effort possible" to ensure everyone has the opportunity to vote, he said even some of his own constituents are facing a similar situation.

"That's a question best directed to Elections Saskatchewan," said Moe. "I don't have an answer for that."

As of Oct. 21, voters had returned approximately 21,000 completed vote-by-mail ballots to Elections Saskatchewan.