Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer on what you need to know before you vote

A provincial election is on the horizon for Ontario and, with a tight race predicted, you might be keen to exercise your democratic right.

Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa, was in Kingston today, Thursday, Apr. 21, 2022, meeting with regional returning officers and key staff ahead of the upcoming provincial election. The Chief Electoral Officer also took time to discuss what citizens of the region and across Ontario need to know as they prepare to cast their ballots.

Photo by Element5 Photography.

The most important thing Ontarians 18 years and older can do to ensure they are able to vote and can do so as conveniently as possible is make sure they are registered with Elections Ontario, and that their address is listed correctly. They can do this by checking the eRegistration portion of the Elections Ontario website.

“This is so critical,” Essensa explained, particularly because the time between the date the election is called and the date it takes place is so short, and getting registered ensures that voters receive a voter information card. “On that card, it shows you all the options you have to vote: where [and when] your advance polls are, where your home poll is on election day.”

“But what it really does for the electorate,” he continued, “is it ensures that your voting process is now easy when you show up at the poll with that voter information card and one piece of identification. We can service you far more efficiently, more effectively. You can get in and get out and exercise your right to vote in a convenient, easy fashion. So, I would encourage all of your readers to take the time now to just confirm we have you at the right address.” 

Something new this election is the Elections Ontario App, which can be downloaded to your smartphone to serve as an electronic voter information card, and is available through the Google Play Store and the Apple Store. Essensa explained that this is Elections Ontario’s “first foray” into the smartphone technology arena, and that the app offers some great perks.

 “It actually provides the ability to see all your voting locations! It’ll map it for where you are, show you the shortest distance, show your polling day information,” he said.

“But the most important feature, and the one I’m most excited about: with this app you get to choose how you receive information from Elections Ontario beyond just the information on your Voter Registration card.”

The app can provide an SMS text, an email, or both; it can notify users when a new candidate is registered in their riding; it can send reminders the day before advance polls or before election day. The app is a pilot for this election, Essensa explained, to make the voter experience more personalized. “We’re quite excited about it. I would encourage all Ontarians to try it out, and let us know what they think,” he said.

The new Elections Ontario App is available now at a number of app stores. Graphic provided by Elections Ontario.

Essensa also explained that lessons learned from last fall’s federal election helped when it comes to safety and efficiency. “We’ve been working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health since September of 2020. We meet with him on a monthly basis and [he’s] been giving us the best advice.”

At the polls, Ontarians can expect to see many of the health-related measures they see already when they go shopping: signage, physical distancing, workers with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and shield barriers. “We want to assure all Ontarians that we’ve taken all the best measures to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved: both the electorate [and] the poll official working for us … If a voter comes in and they want a mask, we can provide them with a mask,” Essensa continued.

He also explained that many of the problems in the federal election last fall, such as long lines and wait times, are also being corrected.

“We have certainly been working very diligently to ensure that we can deliver an election that meets the standards that voters are expecting,” said Essensa, noting that expanding the number of voting locations has been a challenge in some regards due to the pandemic.

“But having said that, we’re slated now to have over 7,000 voting locations, very similar to what we had in the 2018 general election. We’re working with the school boards to ensure that we have the access and utilization of schools, as well as many of the private institutions, whether they be condos and [apartment buildings], churches, or community centres. We intend to have as many locations open as we did in 2018 to ensure that Ontarians have nice, easy access to exercise that democratic right.”

Greg Essensa, Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, was appointed in 2008 and is just the seventh CEO in Ontario history. Submitted photo.

Also, Essensa pointed out, “we have more days and more ways to vote than ever before. For this election, we have… increased the number of advance vote days… from five to 10.” This change will allow the local returning officer to actually rotate some of the polls during those 10 days, he explained. “So, if they have a large geographic area and they want to move a poll for, let’s say, three days in one part of the area and another four days somewhere else, they have that flexibility.”

Elections Ontario is hoping that this will allow more people to have access to advance polls that are nearby, he said.

In addition, Ontarians who might have difficulty getting out of the home to vote have the option to request a vote via a home visit, the Essensa explained. “They can reach out to the local returning officer and we will actually come to their home and facilitate their right to vote,” he said, noting that Elections Ontario can even do a curbside vote visit, “coming to their home without actually stepping foot into their home.” 

But the question remains: why can’t Ontarians simply vote online?

“The challenge with online voting is we really haven’t found a method where we can assure the identity of the individual… It’s really not like banking. In online banking, you have a shared secret with your banking institution… so when there is an issue, you can rectify that. You might have to swear an affidavit, but then they’ll [correct the error.]”

But with voting, “one of the cornerstones… is the secrecy of the ballot: we don’t need to know how you voted. So, until we find a digital identity that’s accepted – and I know there’s a lot of institutions working on that – I think online voting is still a ways off.”

Lastly, the Chief Elections Officer reminded the public that many hands are needed to help on election day and the days leading up to it, and that many paid jobs are available. “We have over 55,000 jobs available on election day.”

Anyone interested in working during the election should visit the Elections Ontario website at www.elections.on.ca and fill out an application.

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