| 23 May 2024, Thursday |

Mail-in voting set to soar in Canada election, could undermine Trudeau, New Democratic Party

Fears about COVID-19 are fueling an increase in mail-in voting in Canada ahead of the September 20 election, and the complicated registration process may dissuade voters, undermining Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt for a majority government.

According to pollsters, mail-in balloting is preferred by Liberal and left-leaning voters, while Conservatives prefer to vote in person. However, Liberal strategists are anxious that the sign-up process for voting by mail may deter their followers from using it and lead to them not voting at all.

Trudeau, 49, started the campaign on Sunday, believing that high vaccination rates and a post-pandemic economic rebound will help him fend off an opposition Conservative challenge and reclaim the legislative majority he lost two years ago.

Part of the problem is that there is no substantial history of voting by mail in Canadian federal elections, where voters overwhelmingly go to polling places in person. Just under 50,000 of the 18.4 million persons that voted in the 2019 election selected mail voting, with the majority of them living abroad.

But concern over COVID-19 means anywhere from 4 million to 5 million people out of 27 million potential voters could choose the mail this time, says Elections Canada, the independent body running the vote.

Despite the fact that 71 percent of the country’s eligible population is completely vaccinated, infections are increasing – primarily among the unvaccinated – in a fourth wave led by the Delta variety.

People who want to vote by mail must request a special ballot from Elections Canada and present evidence of identity, either online with a digital scan of their documents or by mail with photocopies of their identification.

“It is true that voting by mail necessitates some work on the part of the elector,” stated Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Michel Roussel over the phone. “We will insist, as soon as the election is called, that if you intend to vote by mail, begin immediately since it is complicated.”

To better inform voters how to vote by mail, Elections Canada plans an advertising blitz once the campaign starts, using the Web, radio and television as well as social media channels.

But two Liberal sources who said they could not speak on the record said they feared that elderly voters – who tend to vote more than other age cohorts – would be put off by the application process while the fear of COVID-19 might keep them from voting in person.

“Support for mail-in is higher among New Democrats and Liberals and least popular among Conservatives,” said EKOS Research pollster Frank Graves, who said some 20% of mostly left-leaning voters want to vote by mail.

“If mail-in voting is more onerous than people would want, it would be least detrimental to the Conservatives since it’s not something they’re going to use very often anyway.”

Officials from the Liberal and Conservative parties did not comment on the potential impacts of mail-in balloting.

According to polls, the Liberals may not have enough votes to gain an outright majority in parliament.

According to a Leger Marketing poll released on August 12, the Liberals would receive 35% of the vote nationally, compared to 30% for the main opposition Conservative Party and 19% for the left-leaning New Democrats.

  • Reuters