Voters in Saskatchewan’s 41 resort villages will head to the polls this summer, one month late and two meters apart.
Election officers like the District of Lakeland’s chief administrative officer Tammy Knuttila had to adapt after the province’s decision in May to delay resort villages’ planned election days from July 25 to Aug. 29, to allow them to fit COVID-19 into their plans.
Knuttila said that may affect turnout in Lakeland, which is about 200 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
That’s because the new election day is a week before the September long weekend, when many people close their cabins for the year. If it was held in July, non-permanent residents are more likely to be in town, she noted.
Knuttila wonders if many of them will be there two weekends in a row to vote, considering the sheer number of seasonal residents who form a large part of the community.
“Our population explodes in the summer,” she said, noting her jurisdiction includes about 2,500 dwellings, but a census population of about 900.
She’s not alone. Municipalities of Saskatchewan (MOS), the provincial government, and the Provincial Association of Resort Communities of Saskatchewan surveyed the communities before the recent change.
In a statement, MOS President Gordon Barnhart said the advocacy group heard concerns about election provisions and potential lower voter turnout on the new date. In the meantime, it’s working to help the municipalities adapt.
About 190 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, Brian de Montbrun, administrator of Aquadeo, said he doesn’t share those concerns. He estimated the vast majority of voters in his area — more than 400 people — live within an hour and a half of the community. He expects that would mean a good turnout, regardless of timing, he said.
Voters arriving at the local community centre will each enter through one door, take one of the 500 small pencils he ordered, vote, and leave through another door.
Candle Lake returning officer Colleen Lavoie described a similar situation. She would have been ready for the original July 25 vote, she said.
Lavoie estimated there are about 800 permanent residents in the resort village, and slightly less than 2,000 homes. “There’s a lot of people with properties up here who come up during the summer,” she said.
The September long weekend is typically the last weekend before closing for the season, she said.
“Up here, it’s usually busy that weekend. Do I think that there will be a lot of people gone? Yes.” That said, she doesn’t expect a low turnout, she added.
Lavoie said she’s considering two options for in-person voting — people could enter through one door and leave through another, or they could drive through and vote without leaving their vehicles.
The local council is promoting mail-in ballots as an alternative, she said, noting about 25 people chose to vote that way in the last election.
“We’re hoping people will do that, and that will help with the lineup. I think it will actually give more people the chance to vote if they want to.”