Some Words Of Advice For Voters On Election Day

107 seats to fill in Queen’s Park and a democratic system to settle on.  That’s what’s at stake in the upcoming Provincial Election in Ontario tomorrow, the 39th in this province’s history.  Already, it’s been an unusual campaign.
As promised after the 2003 election, The ruling Liberal Party made it provincial law to have fixed election dates starting with the 2007 vote.  Previously, it was up to the Premier of whichever party was running things to decide when the next contest should take place.  It could happen at any time within a five-year span.  No longer.  Starting with the vote on Wednesday, we’ll be having elections in this province every four years in October.  No exceptions.  Incumbents will no longer have the advantage of catching their opponents off-guard with a snap election announcement.
Also differing from the past were the number of days voters in this province could make their decisions well before voting day at advance polling stations, which was always a great idea for those who, for whatever reason, couldn’t vote on the actual day of the election or just wanted to get it over with.  Before, there were six days set aside for this.  This year, thanks to changes to electoral law, voters in this province got an extra week to vote early.  And yes, all of the advance polls are now closed, in case you were wondering.
Speaking of that, according to the official Elections Ontario website, nearly half a million Ontarians have already cast their ballots.  Almost 100,000 more people have voted in advance this year compared to the 2003 election.  That’s an interesting statistic for far more experienced and capable political writers to assess.  They can also debate who the most qualified candidates are and what will happen Wednesday night.  God knows they’ve got plenty of material to work with.
Instead of talking about the campaign and making predictions about the results here, let’s focus on the people who will be maintaining the polls throughout the election and how you, the voters, can help us make everything go smoothly.  I’m talking about the Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers, the Information Assistants and the Polling Day Revision Assistants, and the Supervising Deputy Returning Officers.  We’re the people essentially running things tomorrow and we’re here to make your voting experience quick and easy.
This is my fourth election as a paid worker, my third as a Poll Clerk, and the voting procedure is a little different this time out.  Sometime last month, you should have received your Notice of Registration card in the mail, as you do for every election in this country.  This is a very important document.  It has your name and address, the location where you’ll be voting and what your poll number is.  (In other words, which table you’ll be directed to by either an Information Assistant or a Polling Day Revision Assistant in order to vote properly.)
The card is the final third of the page and can be easily detached.  Note the following line on the card:
“Take your ID and this card to the Poll.”
That’s right.  We will also need to see some Identification that confirms your identity so that the person holding that card is who they say they are.  In past elections, having that card was all you needed.  Not anymore.  By law, we’re required to ask for some form of ID as well as that Notice of Registration card, the latter of which we keep (and is later shredded).
So, what ID is acceptable, I hear you asking?  Good question.  According to Elections Ontario, you must show something that reveals your name and signature.  (Click here to see the list.  It’s List B.)  By the way, although you can use your Health Card as proper ID, we’re not allowed to ask for it.  Not sure why that is the case but there you have it.
Remembering to bring your card with you, which we hope has all your correct personal information on it, and your ID will help us make your voting experience a breeze.  However, we’re prepared to handle exceptions to the straightforward procedure, when necessary.
For instance, if you’ve changed addresses since the last election but remain in the same voting district, let us know and we’ll get you to fill out a form that will note the change.  If your surname has changed, you’ll need to fill out that same form.  But if there’s just a simple spelling mistake, please make the needed correction(s) on your Notice of Registration card and be sure to sign the back.  Please note that if everything is correct no signature is necessary.  In the past, voters have innocently made this mistake thinking it’s a requirement.  It’s not so don’t sweat it.
If you didn’t receive a Notice of Registration card but you have acceptable ID and are on the List of Electors, you’ll be able to vote.  If you’re not on the list, we’ll need you to fill out a form so we can add you to the list of names before you can vote.  If you bring a Voting Certificate along with proper ID, you’ll be able to vote.  And if you don’t have your Notice of Registration card or ID, as long as you complete and sign a Statutory Declaration at the Poll form, you can vote.  If you don’t sign it, you can’t.
Once we establish your identity, you’ll get two folded ballots and some instructions.  One will have a list of candidates competing for a seat representing your riding at Queen’s Park.  The other is a referendum ballot where you’ll be asked to decide on which voting system you would prefer.  The choices are First Past The Post (the current system) and Mixed Member Proportional (one vote for a candidate and one vote for a political party).  Regarding the referendum ballot, please don’t ask us to explain what each system means on Election Day.  We’re not allowed to.  Check out this for more information, or better still, read the case for MMP here and the case for FPTP here.  And asking us about the parties and candidates involved in this election is a no-no, as well.  We’re non-partisan election workers and we can’t help you decide who to vote for.  Before you vote tomorrow, check out the official websites for all the parties to learn about their policy promises and their representatives in the race.
After you make your choices by using an “X” once on each ballot next to the candidate and electoral system you prefer, you’ll return to your poll table with your ballots folded in the exact same manner they were given to you and be asked to recite your name again.  Immediately afterwards, you can put your two ballots inside the voting box.  Don’t mind the yellow clipboard thingy that’s resting on the top.  For some needlessly paranoid reason, we have to put that on there in between votes being cast to avoid the highly unlikely possibility of a wrong ballot going into the wrong box.  (Each ballot is signed on the back by a Deputy Returning Officer.  If a ballot from a different poll somehow someway got into the wrong voting box by mistake, the unrecognizable signature would be the dead giveaway.)
Please note that you can’t take a ballot and leave.  Why anyone would do this is a mystery but it has actually happened, believe it or not.  Follow the instructions you’re given and everything will go smoothly.  The ballots, once cast, are supposed to stay with us until we do the official count and finish off all our paperwork.  Remember, if you arrive at your poll table and don’t want to vote, you can decline your ballots.  And yes, that has happened, too.
Also, if you have a complaint for whatever reason, please be polite and patient so we can help you.  Any problems you may have will be solved faster when everyone is calm and rational.  If you’ve had any difficulty finding your polling location due to a lack of signage, please let us know right away so we can add more signs and don’t take it out on us.  We’re doing the best we can.  I was a Traffic Director in the 2004 Federal Election (I was the person who directed voters to the right polling station) and fairly early on, I faced a barrage of complaints from grumpy electors who had some trouble directing themselves to the right poll.  There was one old guy who was really agitated about it.  After I wished him a nice day following the completion of his voting experience, he responded in an increasingly loud, old codger voice, “You have a nice day, too.  And put up some more signs!”  He was well out of my eyesight by the time he got in that last complaint.  Needless to say, that was one reason I stopped working at elections for three years.  It should be noted, though, that that guy in no way represents the vast majority of voters we see on Election Day.  Most people are either quite personable or are all business and just want to vote and leave.
Which reminds me, unless you’re waiting for someone to finish voting, please don’t hang around the poll.  We need to keep that area clear for the next batch of voters who haven’t cast their ballots yet.  Set your cell phones to vibrate and don’t wear anything that references any candidates or political parties running in the election.  We don’t want any undue, partisan influence passed on to the voters.
If you’re in a wheelchair or a scooter, no problem.  Every polling station in the province should be accessible to your needs.  There will always be someone there to help you get in and out ok.  If you can’t vote inside the building, we will temporarily close our poll and come to you so you can cast your ballots outside.  Then, when you finish, we’ll go back inside and re-open the poll, and you can go back to your daily life.  If you don’t speak English, you can have an interpreter with you who will translate our instructions to you before voting.  If you’re blind or have less-than-perfect eyesight, we can accommodate that, as well.
The polls open at 9 a.m. sharp and close at 9 p.m.  You have literally half a day to make these important decisions about the future of Ontario.  If you’re waiting in line to vote and it’s 9 p.m., you’ll be able to cast your ballot.  But if you arrive at 9 p.m. or later, we can’t let you in.  The polls will be officially closed.
Then, the real fun begins for those of us who will get an early taste of what the overall results will be.  By the time we’re finished, if all goes well, it should be after 10 p.m. and we can go home and chill.  
It’s a long day filled with starts and stops.  A batch of voters here, a period of inactivity there.  Nevertheless, they’re always memorable experiences.  The results of this election will certainly be interesting.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
5:45 p.m.
Published in: on October 9, 2007 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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