Saskatoon election postponement called late to ensure ballots cast would count, Charlie Clark says
SASKATOON -- Incumbent mayoral candidate Charlie Clark said the announcement to postpone Monday’s civic election came so late in the day because the election office wanted to make sure all votes that were cast on Monday would be counted.
The provincial government gave municipalities the option to postpone elections in light of the road conditions facing voters. Saskatoon did not do so until 4:45 p.m.
Clark said the ministerial order came when the polling stations in Saskatoon were already open and some ballots had been cast.
“The option in the morning was to postpone and negate all the ballots that had been cast and there wasn’t an option to simply extend so negotiations had to happen and that’s what caused the delay,” Clark said.
The election has been postponed to Nov. 13. The city’s election office said polling stations will be set up at city leisure centres across Saskatoon, similar to the advance polls.
Mayoral candidate Cary Tarasoff said he was getting calls and texts from supporters concerned they would not be able to vote following the weekend snowstorms that left people stranded.
Tarasoff said the decision came too late in the day.
“They have all the information in front of them to make the proper decision and they stalled because they are scared to. Swift Current didn’t stall,” Tarasoff said.
“The premier gave all the latitude even with the polls open, you can close them and you can have it another day so that should have been a pretty good indicator that ‘hey, we can stop this madness right now.’”
Tarasoff also criticized the city’s messaging following the storm, noting how city officials urged residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel, while telling people to go out and vote.
“We should not be risking people’s lives for an election like this,” he said.
“We don’t need people’s cars stuck in the streets when we can’t get fire trucks and ambulances to people. We have to understand that there are real reasons to keep the streets clear when they call for that.”
Mayoral candidate Zubair Sheikh said he believes the city’s election office could have postponed the civic election ahead of the polling stations opening Monday morning.
By Sunday evening, it was clear to him that the road would be treacherous the following morning.
Even with the election now set for Nov. 13 he’s concerned about the roadways as well as the limited number of places to vote.
“They should have gone much further down to the end of the month or something so we have a much better situation for everybody to come out and vote,” Sheikh said.
“Five to six locations are not going to be enough, I believe they should increase up to 20-25 different locations and utilize places of worship.”
“That’s going to be an issue, there will be long lineups.”
Mayoral candidate Rob Norris said more polling stations need to be available on Friday.
“For the safety of our citizens, I am calling for a greater number of polling stations throughout the city for Friday," Norris said in a news release on Monday.
He also said clarification on plans to delay the election could have been made before 5 p.m. on Monday.
“This morning was the time for very clear and concise communication regarding the state of our election. There was an opportunity to clarify these plans prior to the 5 p.m. announcement.
“We had people expressing an interest, willingness and sense of obligation to get to the polls. Citizens in Saskatoon made great efforts to vote today. The announcement to close the polls early and add an additional day of voting on Friday was a surprise.”
Mayoral candidate Mark Zielke said: “There have been some major missteps along the way specifically when polling stations were shut early last night at 6:30 p.m. People were still lining up to get in after work. So there were people who came after work who weren’t able to vote and that’s not a good thing.”
Scott Bastian, the returning election officer, said while he understands many people will be lining up to vote on Friday, only the five city leisure centres will be available.
“It’s logistically difficult to make some of these happen anyway. Right now it’s just those five locations,” Bastian said.
The leisure centres were chosen because they were already drop-off locations for mail-in ballots.
As for the timing of a postponed election on Monday, Bastian said his office needed clarification about what a postponed election would look like and if the election team needed to replicate election day or not.
“For Saskatoon this is a large operation, we’ve been planning this for 18 months and we had to seek clarification on whether or not we could orchestrate another election in a collapsed version or if we had to replicate the exact same thing on another day,” Bastian said.
With files from Matt Young