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Elections Safety

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This tip sheet is intended for employers, workers and electors as an overview of potential hazards in the workplace due to COVID-19 and related control measures.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities must be followed and general COVID-19 prevention practices should be implemented, as outlined in: Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19.

Protecting Workers

Use a layered approach to keep workers safe. Implementing several safety controls together will create a safer work environment.

  • Instruct workers to stay home if they are sick or might be sick. Use the Government of Canada’s self-assessment tool and follow resulting advice: Government of Canada’s self-assessment tool.
    • If a worker is required to self-isolate or quarantine due to a possible exposure or confirmed COVID-19 test result, consult with local public health authorities for an appropriate return to work timeline.
  • Train all election workers on ways to protect themselves including:
    • Following local public health physical distance recommendations.
    • Identifying symptoms of COVID-19 (refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada symptom list or your local public health authority).
    • Properly using, disposing and storing non-medical masks, or personal protective equipment (PPE), as necessary.
    • Practicing good hand hygiene, promote regular hand washing or sanitizing, especially:
      • at the start of shifts
      • before and after eating or drinking
      • after touching shared items or high touch surfaces
      • after using the washroom
      • after handling garbage
      • before leaving your workspace
    • Practicing good respiratory etiquette:
      • Coughing and sneezing into the arm or tissue
      • Throw tissues in a lined garbage immediately
      • Wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after they sneeze, cough or blow their nose in a tissue
    • Avoid face and mask touching with unwashed hands.
  • Provide training using virtual or electronic methods to minimize in-person interactions.
  • Provide PPE (i.e., masks, gloves (for protection from cleaning products), face shields) to workers at polling stations and election offices.
  • Avoid sharing equipment such as pens, keyboards, computer touch screens, telephones and headsets. If equipment must be shared, disinfect between users.
  • Follow local public health authority guidelines regarding non-medical face masks requirements while inside an election office or polling place.
  • Instruct workers to replace face coverings if they become soiled, wet or damaged.
  • Implement safe ways to handle elector photo identification (ID) and documents (i.e., trays, instruct electors to place ID on a raised tabletop platform, ask elector to hold the ID)
  • Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces frequently. Use approved disinfectants.
  • Consider possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios, implement solutions to protect workers.

Protecting electors

  • Recommend that all electors and visitors wear non-medial masks in election offices and at polling places.
  • Offer non-medical masks to electors that come to an election facility without one.
  • Consider having a polling station outside (weather permitting) for individuals that cannot or will not wear a non-medical mask.
  • Provide single-use pencils or allow electors the option to bring their own pencil.
  • Emphasize alternate voting methods (i.e., local election office, advanced polls, mail-in voting) are available on the voter information card.
  • While complying with local fire codes, have all doors propped open to minimize the need for electors to touch handles and increase ventilation. Have a worker responsible to close the door in case of fire.

Polling place COVID-19 safety measures

  • Select large well-ventilated venues as polling spaces. Rooms with large volumes of air and high ceilings (i.e., school gyms, auditoriums, community centers, churches) are appropriate as they have the capacity to dilute contaminants in the air.
  • When selecting venues, anticipate the expected number of electors, and consider increasing the number of polling places and extending voting hours to help manage crowds and to facilitate physical distancing, if necessary.
  • Confirm with venue managers that ventilation systems have been properly maintained.
  • Attempt to increase the ventilation of the space.
  • Space tables and voting screens as far apart as practical, at least 2 metres, more if possible.
  • Consider having only one poll worker per table.
  • Have floor markings showing safe physical distance (2 metres apart) for all places where lineups tend to form.
  • Consider configuring the polling place with a separate entrance and exit, on opposite sides of the room.
  • Implement a one-way flow of electors through the election process, keeping cross traffic to a minimum.
  • Have hand sanitizer (with minimum 60% alcohol content) available at entrances, exits and at poll worker tables. Make sure hands are dry before handling any materials.
  • Consider having see through barriers (e.g., plexiglass) separating election officials from others, when physical distancing is impractical or impossible or, in some jurisdictions, when a non-medical mask must be removed briefly for identity confirmation.
  • Consider installing ballot box covers and privacy screens that can be sanitized between electors.
  • Post local public health requirements at the entrance of all indoor polling places that:
    • Encourage mask wearing
    • Promote physical distancing
    • State the venue maximum occupancy
  • During peak voting times, consider having lineups start outside to keep crowds from forming indoors.
  • Consider having additional staff to facilitate the orderly movement of electors through the ballot casting process.

Local election office considerations

  • Choose an office with a large area to accommodate physical distancing of workers, electors and visitors. Stage the office furniture and areas to facilitated safe physical distance.
  • Ensure that the ventilation system is working and properly maintained. Ask the landlord to set the air exchange rate to the highest setting to help dilute contaminants in the air.
  • Post signs at office entrances with clear instructions that must be adhered to before entering:
    • Local public health mask wearing requirements
    • Physical distancing requirements
    • Venue max occupancy requirements
  • Stagger shift start and break times to reduce the amount of time workers spend in close quarters.
  • Consider eliminating in-person meetings, use teleconferencing options instead. If in-person meetings are required, use rooms large enough to promote physical distancing. Keep the doors to meeting rooms and offices open to allow for air circulation and dilution.
  • Implement cleaning and disinfection schedule focused on shared workspaces and high touch areas and surfaces. Visit PHAC: Cleaning and disinfecting public spaces during COVID-19 for more details.
  • Follow public health guidance for essential retailers for detailed guidance. PHAC: Advice for essential retailers during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Keep washrooms fully stocked with supplies.

Administrative and Legislative Changes to elections to enhance safety

  • Consider collecting contact information, including phone numbers, from all electors and workers that visit local election offices and polling places to enable contact tracing, if required.
  • Communicate enhanced COVID-19 protocols to the public using advertisements (i.e., tv, radio or print).
  • Expand the capacity of mail-in voting and advertise its availability
  • Plan for an increase in foot traffic for advanced polling locations.
  • Consider creating a procedure on the proper handling of shared paperwork (i.e., counting ballots, reviewing nomination papers). The procedure should:
    • Identify the tasks that involve high touch surfaces or items.
    • Describe proper hand hygiene.
    • Explain when and what PPE is required.
    • Provide the proper method of putting on and removing the PPE.
  • Try to reduce the number of workers in the local election offices and polling places.
  • Consider the visitor policy when selecting the polling place. For example, schools may have a no visitor policy in effect.
  • Consider changing from a single polling day period to a multi-day polling period model. This change would spread out the peak times and facilitate physical distancing of electors. If voting occurred on a weekend, those days would possibly provide access to a range of polling locations such as schools that would otherwise be unavailable.
  • Provide returning officers with greater flexibility to safely serve electors in long-term care facilities by increasing the number of voting days and working with each facility to tailor the approach to their situation.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated March 22, 2020