THUNDER BAY — There was a significant increase in the turnout in local advance polls for the 2021 federal election.
In Thunder Bay-Superior North, Elections Canada estimates that a record 13,630 people cast ballots during advance polls that were open from last Friday to Monday of this week.
That's 33 per cent more than in the 2019 vote, when only 10,204 people in the riding cast ballots in the advance polls.
Returning Officer Dale Mason described the turnout as "huge numbers."
The largest turnout over the four days was on Monday, when 4,420 people voted.
Observers say that whether the result reflects greater voter engagement in this election than the previous one is impossible to determine.
They point out that it could also simply show the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have persuaded some voters that it's safer to vote early than going to a polling station on election day next Monday.
However, Mason said "we have remarkably good procedures in place" to ensure safety in polling stations.
Elections Canada even has voters deposit the pencils they are given to mark their X on the ballot in a bag after they exit the booth.
Mason said COVID-19 has also impacted the locations of some polling stations around the riding.
"About 15,000 people in our district will be voting in a different building than they're used to. Schools can't accommodate us because of concerns about COVID. Sometimes the rooms are too small to hold the number of polls they would normally hold, because of spacing requirements."
Mason advised voters to check the location of their polling station on the voter information card they received in the mail.
He noted that in some cases, the location might be a couple of kilometres farther away than where they voted last time.
Polling locations are also available on the Elections Canada website.
Advance poll totals for this year were not immediately available for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, where 7,794 people cast ballots early for the 2019 election.
Across the country, the turnout in advance polls for the current election increased by just over 18 per cent.