OTTAWA — A polling station officer was scared of contracting COVID-19 on Monday because Elections Canada didn't require workers to be fully vaccinated or allow them to request proof of a medical exemption from maskless voters.
Mary Rose Amaral said she wanted to participate in democracy by working at a Toronto voting station, despite being immunocompromised with asthma.
The 20-year old university student, who worked for 15 hours on Monday, said she expected Elections Canada to take more precautions to protect its employees while working for long hours in close contact with hundreds of voters.
"I felt that kind of put us workers in an unsafe situation, and in addition to that they weren't requiring any of the workers to get (vaccinated)," she said.
"I kind of thought that it could have been done a little bit better."
Amaral said some voters did not wear masks and claimed to have a medical exemption, but workers were not allowed to ask for proof to confirm they actually had one.
"We actually could not tell people to wear masks because we weren't allowed to, obviously, force people to wear masks, and we had to let them come in and vote if they weren't wearing one," she said.
Arjang Fakhraie said he worked from 8:30 a.m. to midnight at a polling station in the Greater Toronto Area where he screened voters for COVID-19 symptoms and helped in organizing the long lineups outside the location.
He said the two metre-distance rule was effectively forgotten as voters and election workers were much closer to each other.
"Throughout the last two years of the COVID pandemic, if I were to catch COVID, which I haven't, it would have been because of yesterday," he said Tuesday.
"I'm still good, so I haven't caught it yet … I think it was still a rather safe event but it definitely ignored some of the safety measures."
Fakhraie, 28, said all the voters he screened said they hadn’t had contact with anyone sick with COVID-19 and hadn’t travelled outside of Canada recently but there was no way to confirm that.
"I asked them simple questions: Have you been in contact with anyone with COVID? Have you recently been diagnosed with COVID? Have you travelled outside of Canada? ... It was like 100 per cent of the time, people just nod their heads," he said.
"No one ever said they were in contact with anyone or they travelled outside of Canada."
An Elections Canada spokesman said the agency encouraged voters to wear a mask, and required them where they were required by the province, territory or region or by the landlord of the polling station.
Matthew McKenna said voters who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons were not mandated to wear one and were not asked for a proof except for in polling stations in Alberta schools where proof of exemption is required by the school boards.
"Health measures developed on the advice of public health authorities were in place at the polls," he said.
"Those measures meet or exceed the measures that Canadians encounter on a daily basis in supermarkets, pharmacies and other places in their community."
He said requiring all election workers to be vaccinated would have decreased the number of people who apply for jobs with the agency and that would have jeopardized the operation of the election.
"Our consultations with public health authorities confirmed that we could deliver a safe election without requiring election workers to be vaccinated," he said.
McKenna said Elections Canada aimed to recruit 215,000 workers on election day, and it was able to meet approximately 93 per cent of that target.
A total of 14,440 polling locations were open across Canada on election day compared with 15,484 voting locations in the 2019 election, he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press