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City to implement drive through voting for fall election

Cold Lake will be offering drive through voting in the upcoming municipal election.
Cold Lake SAILS
Cold Lake will be offering drive through voting in the upcoming municipal election.

COLD LAKE - Voting in the City of Cold Lake's 2021 municipal election could be as simple as getting a cup of coffee. 

With the future of the pandemic still uncertain, the City of Cold Lake will be giving a new voting trend a try: drive through polling stations. 

General Manager of Corporate Services Kristy Isert explained during council's June 15 corporate priorities meeting how these advance polls are gaining in popularity.

“This is something that has been used by municipalities across Canada in various instances and not necessarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has certainly brought up an interesting opportunity to look at what may be an option for drive through advance polling," she said. 

The city is hopeful the method will not only keep the community safe during a COVID-19 election, but also increase the overall number of residents casting ballots. 

“When we looked at what the voter turnout has historically been in the city, as well as considering what may be public health restrictions at that time, we wanted to tailor some of our planning to try to promote voter turnout while also respecting and ensuring we have a good plan in place if we are under public health restrictions at that time,” stated Isert. 

In previous elections, the municipality has held two advance polls in addition to the election day polling. This time around they're planning on adding two additional advance polls. This will give residents four opportunities to vote leading up to election day on Oct. 18. 

Those taking advantage of the drive through polls will present their identification in one of two ways. 

The first option, if health restrictions remain in place, is for the voter to hold their ID against the window of their vehicle, while the second option has them hand over their identification to the person manning the station. A declaration form is given to the resident for them to sign, before they are handed their ballot and move on to the polling station. 

"We would have the actual voting machines pulled out, so long as the weather is permitting, right up beside the vehicles as they come through. Their ballot is just put into the machine, which would count their vote,” Isert detailed.

The city is modelling their methods after the City of Calgary, who have used drive through voting in the past. 

"They found there was a number of voters that particularly utilized this option were voters with physical limitations, elderly voters, and a lot of voters with young families who then didn’t have to get out of their vehicle, they had their kids in the back and they just pulled through and voted and went on their way,” stated Isert. “We think it’s a really interesting option that we’re going to be implementing."

Coun. Bob Buckle was in favour of the concept, but expressed concern over the voter registration process. 

“I want to make sure the person casting a vote is legally entitled to vote and has a residence within the City of Cold Lake,” he said. "I just want to get nailed down how we’re going to recognize and acknowledge the proper credentials of voting."

Isert stressed the city would be accepting the forms of identification as per provincial guidelines, and would be confirming residency the same as any other voting method. 

“We would be sure the safeguards were in place utilizing very similar procedures as what would happen otherwise when people physically attended advanced polls, whereas instead of physically attending and having a plastic screen where someone would hold up their ID, they would just do it in their vehicle and hold it up to the window. We would ensure we could still see their face, that we could still very clearly the ID they were showing us and we would be utilizing the exact same forms, which are provided by the province,” detailed Isert. “We wouldn’t be adjusting any of those safeguards, it would be exactly the same as what would happen at a physical location."

Drive through advance polling will take place Oct. 5 and 13 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Standard in-person advance polls will be open Oct. 7 at the Energy Centre and Oct. 15 at the Harbourview Seniors Centre from noon until 8 p.m., with election day scheduled for Oct. 18 with polls set up at the Energy Centre. 

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle