Elections Canada offers alternative voting options for observant Jews | Montreal Gazette
Even though federal elections fall on a Jewish holiday this year, Jack Edery found the voting process a relatively pleasant one.
The Hampstead resident and city councillor took advantage of the early voting options made available by Elections Canada in the Mount Royal riding, casting his ballot Tuesday at a virtually empty federal office at the Décarie Square shopping mall.
“I wasn’t crazy about the fact that (the elections) were planned to run on a Jewish holiday, but there’s so many advance polling options that it didn’t make a difference,” he said.
A federal court judge ordered Elections Canada’s chief electoral officer to review whether the Oct. 21 election date needed to be moved last summer because it falls on the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret, when observant Orthodox Jews are not permitted to work, vote or campaign. Stéphane Perrault ultimately recommended that the date remain, because he had to balance the needs of observant Jews with ensuring accessible voting opportunities for all Canadians.
This weekend’s advance polling dates fall on the Jewish Sabbath and Sukkot, another Jewish holiday, which means there are only 17 hours out of the a total of 60 made available in which Orthodox Jews can vote. But Elections Canada has made voting options available since the election was announced in September at more than 500 locations nationwide including school campuses, government offices, as well as the option of sending special ballots by mail.
Brian Herman, director of government relations for B’nai Brith Canada, told the Montreal Gazette their group has had strong, regular collaborations with Elections Canada to streamline voting.
Rudy Kaufman, chief electoral officer at the Mount Royal riding branch, said advance voting has been smooth, but sometimes busy. More than 350 voters turned out to vote on Sunday, when the offices were only open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday was quiet because Jewish residents were preparing for Yom Kippur, which began Tuesday evening.
For David Tordjman, a Côte-St-Luc city councillor and the Conservative candidate for the riding of Mount Royal, the scheduling conflict was frustrating because similar issues with holiday conflicts hampered the 2018 provincial elections. Poor management and technical glitches at advance polling stations in the neighbouring and heavily Jewish riding of D’Arcy-McGee saw voter turnout fall to 44 per cent, from 72 per cent the previous election.
“It had a tremendous effect, there was almost a 30 per cent drop in voter participation because of it,” he said. “Lineups at early ballots were so long people just left. It gets people disenfranchised with the whole voting process.”
Tordjman is satisfied with the early voting options put in place by Elections Canada, but wishes there had been more advance planning. Much of his campaign time and money has been spent informing voters of where and when they can vote.
“When you have four years to look at a calendar and see when elections are coming up, things should turn out more clearly,” he said.
To find early voting options in your area, go the Elections Canada website at elections.ca
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