Calling it in: HMCS Winnipeg’s crew votes in B.C. election

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Navy News / November 26, 2020

By Captain Chelsea Dubeau

When a snap provincial election was called in September, it presented a unique dilemma for deployed members on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Winnipeg: how would sailors cast their votes while sailing halfway around the world?

The usual method for federal elections – mail-in ballots – was out; COVID-19’s impact on the mail and supply chain saw to that.

Fortunately, a collaborative effort between senior staff onboard Winnipeg and at Maritime Forces Pacific, Canadian Fleet Pacific and Elections B.C., helped make this endeavour possible.

Ballots could not be cast via regular mail—there was simply not enough time—and pre-registration was also off the table. By the time options had been weighed for how to facilitate voting, the pre-registration window for eligible voters had already passed.

What came about was an innovative solution that hadn’t before been used in a deployed naval environment: assisted, telephone voting.

Typically reserved for those members of the electorate who are unable to vote in person, due to disability for example, members onboard Winnipeg were given the opportunity to cast their vote via telephone from Oct. 9 right up until the provincial election date of Oct. 24. The ship’s Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephones were used for the purpose, and pre-registration wasn’t required. In fact, several voters onboard were able to register right over the telephone.

Identification was required and verified over the phone, and the assisting voting officials even provided each voter with a rundown of candidates in their riding.

The whole process, on average, took about 10 minutes per person.

Captain Chris Willis, Winnipeg’s Padre, was the second person to cast his vote after Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Pascal Harel, Winnipeg’s Coxswain.

“I’m very pleased that we got an opportunity to vote,” said Captain Willis. “I take my democratic right to vote very seriously and try to vote whether it’s municipal, provincial, or federal, whenever I can.”

But while it may have been easy for Winnipeg sailors to cast their ballots, it took a lot of time and effort to bring the whole thing to fruition.

“I know there was a lot of leg work and a lot of effort by people in the chain of command, and that’s very much appreciated,” said Captain Willis. “I know people back home were working hard on this too, so Bravo Zulu for making sure we could participate.”

About 120 members onboard had cast their ballots by the time the final voting window for Winnipeg wrapped up.

Winnipeg is currently deployed in the Asia-Pacific region on Operation PROJECTION and Operation NEON, to further strengthen Canada’s relations with partners in the area.