The person in charge of how elections are run in Quebec has apologized for the difficulty many Jewish voters had in exercising their franchise in last fall’s provincial election.
Election day, Oct. 1, was Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Sukkot, when observant Jews could not vote. Liberal MNA David Birnbaum, who represents the riding of D’Arcy McGee, and the Jewish community had advised Elections Quebec months ahead of time that it should be prepared for higher than normal traffic at the advance polls and other opportunities to cast an early ballot for that reason.
According to the D’Arcy McGee Liberal Association, Elections Quebec was not ready, despite the reassurances it had given, and the result was long waits, sometimes ending without voting.
“We wish … to offer our apologies for the inconvenience that the situation might have caused for members of the observant Jewish community and also for all other electors,” Jean-François Blanchet, director of electoral operations at Elections Quebec and assistant to the chief electoral officer, wrote to the association.
Elections Quebec is an independent office that oversees the administration of the electoral system and reports to the national assembly.
Blanchet was responding to a formal complaint lodged by the association in January that staff manning early voting booths were not equipped to handle the extraordinarily high number of residents of the riding who turned out.
While there were several days for early voting, they also partially conflicted with a holiday, or were limited in terms of location or hours.
Elections Quebec had said months earlier that adequate staff would be in place to ensure a smooth operation in the riding of D’Arcy McGee, as well as other ridings with significant Jewish populations.
The D’Arcy McGee Liberal Association is satisfied that Elections Quebec has formally recognized the validity of its complaint, which offered detailed evidence that the body had not taken the necessary steps to accommodate what it warned would be an increased pre-election turnout.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which also informed the chief electoral officer well in advance about the holiday conflict and the likelihood of a significantly higher pre-election turnout as result, said it is “disappointed” that election officials were not better prepared.
“During advanced poling, we received complaints of extremely long wait times, particularly in D’Arcy-McGee. CIJA once again voiced the community’s concern to (Elections Quebec),” said CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin.
“While we are disappointed, we are assured that (Elections Quebec) has taken note of the issue. CIJA will continue to engage on this issue and urge it and Elections Canada, who have indicated they are willing to work with us, to make adequate contingency plans ahead of future fixed election dates coinciding with Jewish High Holidays.”
This was the first time an election was held on the fixed date – the first Monday of October every four years (assuming a majority government is in power) – since a law to that effect was adopted by the Parti Québécois government in 2013.
The disorder may at least partially explain why the turnout in D’Arcy McGee was only 47 per cent, compared to 72 per cent in the 2014 election.
Birnbaum said he hopes that Elections Quebec will be more cognizant of protecting the rights of all Quebecers in the future.
“With fixed October dates, it is an unfortunate reality that we will again face voting days that coincide with important Jewish holidays,” he said. “We want to make sure Elections Quebec is better prepared in the future.”
The next election day – Oct. 3, 2022 – will not conflict with the High Holidays.