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Widespread discontent with N.L. election call, and Elections NL itself, survey suggests

·3 min read
The CBC Vote Compass survey was conducted after the entire election moved to mail-in ballots due to COVID-19. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
The CBC Vote Compass survey was conducted after the entire election moved to mail-in ballots due to COVID-19. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)

Results from an online survey indicate widespread unhappiness over the decision to hold a provincial election prior to mass vaccination in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as overwhelming disapproval of Elections NL's handling of the entire process.

Following the election's postponement due to last month's COVID-19 outbreak and a return to Alert Level 5, CBC's Vote Compass asked voters five questions to gauge their sentiments on the unprecedented pandemic election.

Half of the 841 people surveyed said they strongly agreed the entire process should have waited until most people had been vaccinated. Another 18 per cent chose "somewhat agree," with the two categories combined representing 68 per cent of respondents.

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey has stood by his decision to call the winter election, a move heavily criticized throughout the campaign, even prior to the outbreak, by opposition parties. That partisanship was reflected in the survey: when results are broken down along party lines, only 11 per cent of Liberal voters strongly agree the election should have waited, compared with 77 per cent of Progressive Conservatives and 63 per cent of NDP voters.

Sixty-one per cent of all people surveyed thought adults over the age of 65 should have been vaccinated prior to heading to the polls.

Updates to the province's widescale vaccine rollout have only come in the last week, as supply problems have dogged the entire country's ability to receive shipments since the start of 2021.

Satisfaction with Elections NL, headed by chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk, was low among survey respondents.
Satisfaction with Elections NL, headed by chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk, was low among survey respondents.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Elections NL disapproval, integrity concerns

The majority of people surveyed also weren't happy with how the entire election has proceeded — a process still underway, as Elections NL says it could be April before the results are known.

Ninety-two per cent of PC voters, 80 per cent of NDP and 47 per cent of Liberals said in the survey they either disapproved or strongly disapproved of Elections NL's management thus far.

Carrying out the election hit the rocks as COVID-19 cases surged in the week preceding the Feb. 13 election day, with Elections NL staff resigning en masse out of pandemic fears or because they were in self-isolation. Alongside that, confusion ensued as to whether chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk or the chief medical officer of health had the authority to delay in-person voting.

It was only after the confirmation that the contagious B117 variant was driving the outbreak and the entire province was moved into Alert Level 5 — on the evening before election day — that Chaulk announced the entire election would be held by mail-in ballot. The mailing process has since been dogged by extensions, adjustments and concerns, such as a lack of translation of ballots into Indigenous languages.

The survey indicates mixed results for how people felt about the election's integrity. Fifty-six per cent of respondents overall felt either "not confident at all" or "not very confident" in its integrity. But breaking down respondents by party suggests distinct partisanship: 75 per cent of Liberals surveyed were either "very" or "somewhat" confident in the election, compared with 22 per cent of PCs and 30 per cent of NDP voters.

That pattern leans into the three main party's leadership stances. While Furey has said the Liberals will accept the election's outcome as legitimate, PC Leader Ches Crosbie has said a legal challenge to results is "almost inevitable." NDP Leader Allison Coffin has voiced concerns about voters disenfranchised through the process.

The election is on track for a record-low turnout of 51 per cent, if all mailed ballots are returned by the Mar. 12 deadline.

Online polls don't have the same margin of error as traditional polls do, but Vox Pop Labs, the company that ran the survey, said a comparative sample of 841 people would have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was conducted between Feb. 24 and March 2.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador