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editorial

No matter which day is chosen as Election Day, somebody is going to be put out. Some voters will be travelling. Others will be ill. Some will be too busy. Some may be celebrating a religious holiday. There is no way of avoiding it.

Or, rather, there’s no way to avoiding it if we think of voting as something that can only happen on one day – in the case of this year’s federal election, on Monday, Oct. 21.

But what if Canada, instead of having a single Election Day, had an Election Week? What if, instead of one voting day, we had five? Or seven? Or 14?

The question is raised by a legal challenge brought by Conservative candidate Chani Aryeh-Bain, who is seeking to change the date of the election, from coast to coast. Ms. Aryeh-Bain is Orthodox Jewish, as are several thousand residents of her Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and this year Oct. 21 is the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, when the observant cannot work, drive or vote.

We do not believe the courts should order a new election date. However, the reason is not because religious liberty should be ignored, nor because religious differences should never be accommodated.

The reason to reject the challenge is because, over the last century, Election Day in Canada has evolved, little by little, into Election Week, and even Weeks. If you can’t vote on E-Day, there are already several opportunities to vote on other days.

This year, voting on a day other than Oct. 21 will be neither difficult nor unusual – but it should still be easier, and more common. One way of making that happen: keep regular polling places open for an entire week, or two, instead of just one day. Include Saturdays and Sundays. Every day of Election Week (or Weeks) would be a regular, normal voting day.

Our system has been moving in this direction for decades. Voters can already vote by mail, and can send in their ballot at any time. They can also vote at an Elections Canada office, also at any time during the campaign.

Most importantly, voters can visit an advance poll, on any one of four advance voting days. In 2015, more than one in five voters made their mark this way.

That number will almost certainly rise in 2019, given that advance voting is becoming more normalized, and advance polls will have longer opening hours than in 2015. Elections Canada is also increasing the number of advance polling places by 11 per cent.

Once upon a time, Canada had only one day when people could vote. If you missed it, you were out of luck. Advance voting was first allowed in 1920 – but it was only available to “commercial travellers, railwaymen and sailors.” In 1934, the privilege was extended to workers in “airships.” It was not an easy process, and eligible voters had to swear out an oath. Few were allowed to use it, and even fewer did.

But in 1960, the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker liberalized things. Voters still had to swear out an affidavit, but advanced polls were made available to anyone.

Result: In the 1962 general election, the number of advance voters increased tenfold, to nearly 100,000.

In 2015, nearly 3.7 million Canadians voted at an advance poll. Another 619,000 voted by mail or at an Elections Canada office.

However, Elections Canada’s review of the 2015 election found that “voters encountered longer voting times at advance polls and were less satisfied with their experience than those who voted on Election Day.” And that’s no surprise.

In 2015, there were 15,578 ordinary polling places open on E-day. In contrast, there were just 3,422 advance polling places. Voting in advance meant travelling a longer distance, often followed by a longer wait.

This year, Elections Canada is increasing the number of advance polling places, which is good. (It is also slightly decreasing the number of regular polling places, which is not so good.) Further change will take legislation.

Voting is a serious act and an ancient ritual. It should not become something you can do on your smartphone, by casually swiping right or left on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s face. But expanding advance voting, so that it’s no different from regular voting, simply extends the old way of doing things, while making it more accessible.

Ditch Election Day. Replace it with Election Week.