Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
Sale ends in
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
save over $140
// //

Elise Thorburn is a politically savvy community volunteer in St. Johns, N.L., who normally votes in elections. But she said that last Friday, she purposefully let the deadline to apply for a ballot in Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial election sail right by.

“The whole thing felt confusing, the deadlines were constantly shifting and changing. It felt really undemocratic that (the election) was being forced on people at this time,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Thorburn said she thinks a lot of people are frustrated, feeling left behind by party leaders and an elections authority that didn’t seem to care if they voted. “It certainly won’t feel like whoever wins has any kind of popular mandate to do anything,” Thorburn said. “And that seems scary when the issues that are facing us right now are so important”

Story continues below advertisement

Preliminary numbers from Newfoundland and Labrador’s elections authority suggest Thorburn isn’t alone, and voter turnout in the provincial election could hit a record low.

Elections Newfoundland and Labrador estimates about 120,000 people contacted them through phone, fax, email and an online portal to request a mail-in ballot ahead of last Friday’s deadline. About 68,000 others voted in advance polls or by special ballot, Elections NL spokeswoman Adrienne Luther said.

With 368,135 people registered to vote, that means roughly 51 per cent of them have cast a vote or requested a ballot – which would be a historic low turnout for the province. The lowest turnout to date was in 2015, when 55 per cent of registered voters ended more than a decade of Progressive Conservative rule with a majority Liberal government.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial election was thrown into chaos early this month as a COVID-19 outbreak flared in the St. John’s metro region. In response, Elections NL first delayed in-person voting for half the province, and then cancelled it for everyone, saying votes would instead be cast by mail. The office extended its deadlines to request and submit ballots as it battled overloaded phone lines and a crashing website.

Luther emphasized that the estimate of 120,000 mail-in ballot requests is both rough and preliminary. “Many of the telephone and email requests were for multiple electors,” she said, meaning some of the requests were for multiple ballots. That would increase voter turnout.

But those gains could be offset by electors who don’t return their ballot at all, or by those who don’t have it postmarked by the March 12 deadline. “We can’t be certain until everything is processed,” she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the fourth province to hold an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. The turnout for New Brunswick’s election in September didn’t fall significantly, but turnout for British Columbia’s October election was a historic low. Saskatchewan’s October election saw its second-lowest turnout since 1986.

Story continues below advertisement

On Wednesday, the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP party launched a new website to collect people’s stories about voting – or not – in the election, as well as their suggestions for improving the experience. In an interview, NDP Leader Alison Coffin said the province desperately needs to change its elections legislation and the information collected through the site could help inform that process.

“The only thing we can do right in this instant is ensure that those who did register to vote, that they get their ballot and they get their ballots back in,” Coffin said. She said it’s hard to hear stories like Thorburn’s but she hopes they, too, will inform a legislation overhaul.

Coffin said she”s “of course” worried about the overall voter turnout. “I’m more worried (about) people not having the opportunity to choose their fate in terms of who they’re going to elect in what are arguably some of the most tumultuous times that we’ve had,” she said.

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey’s office emailed a statement saying voter turnout is a concern in any election. Spokeswoman Meghan McCabe said the Liberals are hearing that people look forward to voting. “We hope this will contribute to a good turnout with the mail-in ballots requested,” McCabe said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie was not available for an interview.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies