There will be no handshakes and kissing of babies. With the classics out, how will candidates be campaigning safely in a pandemic?
Elections Yukon has provided guidelines to the parties, which were developed with the Chief Medical Officer of Health after looking at other jurisdictions for best practices. The organization also used those guidelines during the school council elections in October 2020.
“While the Elections Act does not contemplate a campaign during a pandemic, Elections Yukon has a clear responsibility to protect public health to ensure a safe electoral process for all,” reads the document. “Additional measures may also be established by the Chief Electoral Officer to further protect election officials and the public.”
A number of elections have taken place across the country since the pandemic began.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was elected with a majority in September, the first provincial election to be called after the pandemic started. Soon after British Columbia voters re-elected Premier John Horgan and Saskatchewan voters elected Premier Scott Moe in October.
The election in Newfoundland and Labrador has been less smooth. A four-week campaign turned into a three-month process after a COVID-19 outbreak threw the vote into chaos. Mail-in votes are expected to be received before March 25.
The guide from Elections Yukon notes that normal campaigning often involves close contact — including rallies, fundraising socials and campaign outreach like door-knocking.
Parties are recommended to provide advance notice of the door-knocking, including times and routes, via social media. Protocols on the doorstep include a doorbell ring or knock on the door followed by two steps back to ensure two metres distance between candidates and people living in the house.
Canvassing teams will also likely be smaller this year, and — despite a lack of handshaking this year — should be sanitizing hands before and after contact with each household.
Like everyone else in the territory, candidates are also being asked to monitor for symptoms and stay home if feeling unwell.
Fundraising events are being encouraged to take place over platforms such as Zoom or Skype. Campaign events and gatherings must be limited to 50 people indoor or 100 people outdoors with physical distancing. Social gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
Following campaign launches on March 12, all three parties said they would be following the guide and adapting the normal election routine to the pandemic.
“Last time around for me in Dawson, I did a lot of calling, because I had to be in 19 different ridings. There are phone calls, everybody knows how to Zoom these days, there are ways to meet in public buildings as well. So there’s always ways around it. Yukoners are resilient. We’ll find ways to make sure that we reach out,” said Liberal leader Sandy Silver, who held the snap election announcement outdoors surrounded by 14 elected MLAs and candidates.
The NDP and Yukon Party chose to hold their reactions indoors at campaign headquarters, and limited numbers accordingly, broadcasting their announcements over social media.
“The chief electoral officer has issued the guidance for door-to-door knocking. We’ll be utilizing a number of different ways to reach out to voters throughout the next 30 days,” said Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon, when asked how the virus would affect his campaign.
NDP leader Kate White said she will be carefully monitoring people’s comfort levels.
“I can tell you that I’ve knocked on doors and judging by people’s comfort level with our masks and a proper amount of distance, people are fairly comfortable, but it’s all about consent. If someone is uncomfortable, then you can guarantee that we won’t be pestering them at the door. But if they’re happy to chat with us, we’ll be ready,” she said.
Voting day is April 12, and Yukoners can expect polling stations to look different as well. Much like the vaccine clinic, there will be screening posters, signs and directional arrows, plenty of hand sanitizer and masks available.
Max Harvey, the Yukon’s chief electoral officer, has also said he expects alternative voting methods, such as advance polls and mail-in ballots, to be more popular this year.
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