Mail-in ballot option now available in the City of Prince Albert

Prince Albert City Hall/Daily Herald File Photo

In a Facebook post on Thursday, September 3 the City of Prince Albert announced that Mail-in ballot applications available. The City’s VotePA website has all options available to apply for a ballot either at home or at City Hall.

The changes were made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eligible voters wishing to vote by mail can register to vote and apply for a mail-in ballot. Once registered, eligible voters will then receive a ballot package in the mail after nomination day which is to be completed and provided back to the election office,” the website explained.

Mail-in ballots must be received at the election office before 8:00 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

In August, City Council approved changes to the election bylaw, including expanding mail-in voting. The changes allow voters to avoid some personal contact by submitting a ballot by mail or even electronically to avoid a polling location where there are a number of people.

In an interview in July Gordon Barnhart, president of Municipalities of Saskatchewan explained that in the past the mail-in ballot was difficult and dependent on the choices of the municipality. This required taking forms to the returning officer to confirm your identity

“The emphasis is on trying to have it in a non-contact way if people are afraid to go in. The legislation has now been changed as I understand it, that you can photocopy your ID and send it in along with a form that is witnessed by someone who will say this indeed is ( your name) and they are valid to cast a ballot and the mail in ballot will then be sent out,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart explained that a concern may have been fraud.

“There is a chance of fraud even with voting at the polling station if people want to be devious,” he said.

“I think that the system is as best as it can be in terms of trying to prevent fraud and because you are having to send in your ID and having a witness to that. We are certainly saying ‘let’s do that and make sure that people get out to vote.’”

City administration suggested bylaw changes to make mail-in ballots more flexible. Normally the Election Bylaw requires voters to apply in person at the election office in City Hall to complete the application, which requires some personal contact for witnessing the signature of the registration form.

The bylaw changes include broadening the range of approved witnesses to sign the voter’s registration form and declaration of person Requesting mail-in ballot and to check the voter’s identification

When you apply from home there are a number of steps.

First, interested parties must fill out and sign the voter’s registration and declaration form, which is available at the website. They must also make a copy of all required identification. Then have someone from the approved list of witnesses verify your identity by witnessing your declaration. Then submit the application and a copy of the witness’ identification.

Authorized witnesses include the returning officer or a designated election official, a family member as defined by the Local Government Regulations Act, someone living in the same address as the applicant or a neighbour and an occupation-based professional. Further details are available online.

If your witness is from the occupation-based professional category the identification must be a copy of a business card or professional license.

To complete the process send the registration form, including signature, copy of personal and witness ID and witness signature to or by mail to Elections, 1084 Central Avenue, Prince Albert, SK S6V 7P3.

Interested voters can also apply on the second floor of City Hall Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The deadline to apply in person is Monday, November 9.

Ensure that you have original copies of all required identification. There will be a voter’s registration and declaration form to sign and a designated election official will serve as witness.

Voters are encouraged to make an appointment by contacting the election office by email or phone.

The report received by council in July explained that collaboration between Saskatchewan cities has been undertaken regarding this process and most cities are proposing to use similar approaches to what has been outlined in terms of the witnesses and identification requirements.

Another change would expand the use of the mail-in ballot to any voter who is unable to attend a polling location during the advance poll or on election day.

“This would allow voters to use this option if they are unable to vote in person for any reason, including COVID-19. Currently, the mail-in ballot bylaw option is limited to those voters who anticipate not being able to vote at either the advance polls or on Election Day,” the report explains. Further changes expand the ability of election officials to go to a residence to accept a mail-in application and check identity when the voter is not able to apply in person. This would be because of an illness, a compromised immune system or increased risk factors that could lead to becoming severely ill if exposed to a communicable disease. The old bylaw only provided this option because of a physical disability or limited mobility.

Another change is that advance polls be conducted by Drive Thru Voting at the Prince Albert Exhibition Grounds. The confirmed dates for this are Wednesday, October 28 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Friday, October 30 from 3:00 p.m. To 7:00 p.m., Saturday, October 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday, November 2 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, November 4 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Thursday, November 5 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

“Drive thru voting provides voters the opportunity to participate safely without contact with other voters and limited contact with election workers. Over the last number of Elections, a Drive Thru Voting process was established by the city of Regina as an additional means of voting in the Advance Polls. It was well received and has been another way to encourage voters to vote within the election,” the report to council stated.

The financial impact of these protocols could see the cost of the election exceed that of the current budget of $212,340. The situation remains fluid according to the report to council but the Returning Officer is taking all necessary steps to minimize the impact.

For more information visit the City of Prince Albert’s website or follow the link on Facebook.

According to Barnhart, Municipalities of Saskatchewan says increasing ways to participate in the electoral process as a positive.

“I would say that we are very much in favour of trying to find ways of encouraging people to vote,” he said.

“In many communities for the municipal elections it is certainly at 40 per cent turnout and we would very much like to see more of that.”