WESTLOCK – While Town of Westlock residents embraced the two additional advance polls that preceded the Oct. 18 municipal election, day-of and institutional voting was down across the board.
And while only 29 per cent of the 4,265 eligible town residents cast a ballot for the six open council seats, that’s actually a small increase over 2017 when only 26 per cent of residents, 1,101, voted.
Those are some of the interesting numbers following the Oct. 18 municipal election, which saw 1,221 town residents cast ballots at the three advance polls, four institutional voting stations and the Westlock and District Community Hall on election day.
Returning officer Annette Boissonnault said residents clearly embraced the addition of two advance voting dates, as 395 votes were cast this year compared to only 77 at one advance poll in 2017 — this year’s advance polling stations were held at the Heritage Building, Oct. 2, pool, Oct. 12 and Rotary Spirit Centre, Oct. 16. But the advance poll gains were offset by day-of voting as this year as 763 ballots were cast Monday, down from 903 in 2017.
“I have notes for myself for four years from now that the advance poll obviously helped out the electors,” said Boissonnault, who was also the town returning officer in 2017.
Boissonnault and her crew of 12 started election day around 8 a.m. and finished up around 1 a.m., Oct. 19, while she wasn’t done until closer to 2 a.m. as they had to pass their numbers onto Municipal Affairs — results for town council went online around 11:30 p.m.
“And I was back in the office later that morning doing election paperwork, then just the regular day-to-day stuff. That’s OK, it’s once every four years and you get through it,” she said.
Unlike some of the larger centres which have automated vote tabulators, the town manually counts the ballots. In addition to council ballots, they also tabulated the votes for the Pembina Hills School Division election, Evergreen Catholic, plus the Senate and the referendum questions posed by the province — despite the province not releasing those numbers until Oct. 26, Boissonnault said they had to count them on election night as well.
“We manually count and Edmonton has tabulators. So every polling station had five boxes to count and I had four stations on election day,” she explained. “So when we take into account the four institutions, the three advance polls and the four polling stations there were a lot of boxes to go through. I was asked throughout election day, ‘Do I take one specific, say Evergreen, and count all those ballots first?’ And I told them we don’t. We take a polling station and we finish it and then move on to the next one. Is there a right way or a wrong way? I don’t know.”
Institutional voting this year was down significantly compared to 2017, with 63 votes cast at the Smithfield (33) and Pembina (14) lodges, Continuing Care (16) and the hospital (0), compared to 121 in total at those four facilities 2017. Voter fatigue may have played a factor, she said, following the federal election Sept. 20.
“It was quite a bit lower and I don’t know if it was COVID-related or a federal-election-a-month-previous related,” said Boissonnault, noting they had a worker phone Pembina Lodge residents when the polling station was onsite.
Beyond that Boissonnault said voters were well behaved and patient at all of the polls. As for following COVID-19 protocols, voters were asked to wear a mask at all the polling stations, but if they didn’t, they weren’t denied a ballot.
“We had no issues with electors and I was at the hall all day. They were patient throughout the entire process. They knew they were going to get a mitt full of ballots and they were really good about it. And we didn’t have anyone create a fuss (when it came to wearing a mask),” she said.
“I was fortunate enough that I had the same workers from 2017 to now. I had a good team and I’m proud of them. I think it went as smooth as it could.”