Saskatchewan schools will be closed on election day, and the province’s chief electoral officer says he will work with school divisions to see if teachers can work at polling stations.

“We have worked together with the province to ensure that schools will be closed on election day,” which is set for Oct. 26, Michael Boda said.

Teachers will have a paid professional development day and may be asked to work at polling stations to make up for an expected shortage in election day workers, Boda said.

It takes 13,000 people to run an election, he said, and due to COVID-19 concerns, many past workers may opt out.

“I’ll be working with the directors of education across the province to determine whether teachers and support staff can work for us that day.”

He said a new program called “Youth to the Booth” will have 16-18 year-olds working on election day.

“We’re expanding our recruitment base but at the same time we’re doing things that will make the polls safer for the voters and our workers,” said Boda.

The province could see polling locations rise from 1,100 provincewide to 1,700, to accommodate 800,000 eligible voters in 61 constituencies, he said.

“We’re concerned at this point because recruitment is always a challenge, that we may not have enough individuals who will be able to assist us. We’re beginning to work with other groups, teachers and youth, in order to ensure that we have enough capacity to draw on.”

Sanitizer, masks and shields 

In May, the provincial government granted Boda the emergency power he had asked for to make changes needed to run the election during the pandemic.

The government said the changes “clearly define a public health emergency as an emergency under The Elections Act and give the chief electoral officer the power to adapt any provision of the act as necessary to reduce a health risk to the public.”

Boda said over the last few months, his team has worked with provincial health officials, an infection protection and control consultant, and the public safety agency to prepare and procure what is needed to provide a safe voting environment.

Safety precautions include:

  • More polling stations with fewer polls.
  • Having every election worker wear a mask.
  • Hand sanitizer at each polling location.
  • Safety shields between workers and voters.
  • Physical distancing.
  • Encouraging voters to wear a mask.

“We have purchased about 4000,000 masks. We’ve purchased many litres of hand sanitizer. We are in the process of procuring [Plexiglas] shields,” Boda said.

He said he does not have a final amount for the increased costs associated with running an election during a pandemic.

Boda told The Canadian Press earlier this month Elections Saskatchewan was looking for $425,000 worth of personal protective equipment.

Michael Boda, the chief electoral officer for Elections Saskatchewan, said the agency will require elections workers to wear masks. Hand sanitizer will be supplied for voters, and Plexiglas shields will separate voters and workers. (Submitted by Elections Saskatchewan)

In May, he said there was not enough time to run a mail-in ballot election, but on Tuesday, Boda said Elections Saskatchewan is “building capacity” to vote by mail, and voters will be able to apply next month for a mail-in ballot.

In 2016, 4,000 voters cast a ballot through the mail.

Boda said political parties are also seeking advice and guidance on how to safely campaign, and he’s worked with Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab to determine a safe approach to campaigning.

“The feedback that we’ve gotten back, and that the political parties are getting back, is that there is a safe approach. It’s just a matter of making sure that you’re following the guidelines that are offered by the Ministry of Health.”

Boda said Saskatchewan is in a unique situation as the first jurisdiction in Canada to hold an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Election management bodies, not just in Canada but around the world, are looking at us,” he said. 

“I’m engaging with chief electoral officers from across the country to offer advice and to offer insight into how we have been preparing for a COVID-19 environment.”