SASKATOON -- While the City of Saskatoon predicts a surge in voters turning to mail-in ballots for the fall election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a city councillor is concerned over the opportunities for voter fraud.

In light of the pandemic, the city is making it easier for voters to apply to a mail-in ballot package on election day.

“In 2016, 196 mail-in ballot packages were issued to voters. The election team is planning a higher demand in 2020,” said Scott Bastian, returning election officer with the City of Saskatoon.

At Monday’s Governance and Priorities meeting held virtually with members of City Council, the committee amended the Election Bylaw to allow mail-in ballot applications to be done online. In elections prior, mail-in applications were done in-person.

“Due to the current environment we want to limit in-person interactions, so they can apply for mail-in ballots online,” he said. Mail-in ballots need to be delivered to City Hall by 8 p.m. on Nov. 9, election day.

The committee also approved bylaw amendments requiring a designated witness to sign a voter and witness declaration for mail-in ballots, something that was previously taken care of by a polling station volunteer when people would vote in person.

Bastian said that beyond the witness signature, nothing is in place to prevent voter fraud in the upcoming 2020 civic election.

“The voter signs an oath and declares they have only voted once,” Bastian said. “It is an offence the voter would be making and we would investigate based on any suggestion of fraud going on.”

Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill asked if the city could compile a voter’s list identical to the provincial voter list.

“There’s going to be too many opportunities for voter fraud and I don't think we’ve addressed voter fraud issues,” Hill said.

Bastian said that was not something the election team is considering.

“There have been discussions but there are some obstacles to jump through to make that happen and the timeline is very tight. I don’t foresee it being feasible to have a voter’s list for this election,” Bastian said.