Chief Electoral Officer Bruce Chaulk Responds to Covid Concerns

“[There] would have to be an increase in the alert level before we would consider significantly delaying an election,” Chaulk tod the Independent.

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Monday’s Covid-19 media briefing revealed 11 new cases in the Eastern Health region—as well as community spread of the virus within the St. John’s metro region.

There are now 27 active cases in Newfoundland and Labrador. All individuals are isolating and contact tracing is underway. Three of the cases are related to a previous case, and the remainder are under investigation. 82,530 people have been tested. 

Premier Andrew Furey and Minister of Health John Haggie appeared alongside Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald in today’s briefing. Their appearance broke with a previous decision not to appear on briefings for the duration of the campaign, to limit any (perceived) potential advantage during the electoral process. 

Furey urged viewers not to politicize the outbreak. When asked whether he regretted the timing of the election, Furey reiterated that an election had to legally be called within a year of his becoming Premier, and that there will always be uncertainty around Covid-19.

Furey deferred all media inquiries regarding how the election will proceed to Bruce Chaulk, Chief Electoral Officer of Newfoundland and Labrador. Furey stated that any final decisions regarding the election rest with Chaulk.

There are concerns about whether hundreds of voters in isolation, in at-risk demographics, or without transportation to polls will be able to cast their ballots at all. 

Chaulk told the Independent that it was anticipated that there could be community spread during the election. The country has seen three general elections since last August, two of which (British Columbia and Saskatchewan) had community spread during the election. 

“So it was a possibility,” said Chaulk. 

It is unclear whether those now forced to isolate who were planning to vote in-person on election day will be able to vote. The deadline for other early voting options have passed.

“At this point, we’re evaluating if there are any options available,” Chaulk said. “Further decisions will be coming out on that possibly within the next day or so.” 

“Right now in the legislation there is no provision, as the early voting options all expired on Saturday. So we’re just seeing if there is anything that is available. But it will depend on what happens over the next couple of days.”

British Columbia had a contingency plan for those self-isolating during the last week of the campaign who were unable to vote by mail: voting by phone.

Chaulk says that there is no provision in our legislation to vote by phone, but he will be discussing with staff whether there is a possibility of “something along those lines.”

There are precedents for delaying elections—and the power to do so rests with Chaulk. In 2007, the death of a candidate led to a delayed election in one district

He says that voting is an activity that can be safely accomplished under the current Covid Alert Level (Alert Level 2).

“So it would have to be an increase in the alert level before we would consider significantly delaying an election,” said Chaulk. 

During the briefing, Dr. Fitzgerald indicated that candidates and campaigns should not be providing rides to polls for voters. Chaulk said that providing transportation to polls is not within the purview of Elections NL. 

Chaulk stresses that Elections NL is following all public health guidelines and that voters will not be in prolonged contact with anyone at polling stations. There are also extra sanitation measures in place. 

He also points out that on election day itself, people are assigned to one specific polling location (as compared to advance polls where people have multiple locations at which they can choose to vote), so there should be fewer people at a given poll. 

“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to be as safe as possible for people,” said Chaulk.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash.

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