Residents of Membertou First Nation cast their paper ballots Thursday for their next chief and council team, four months after the original date in June.
The Mi’kmaq community's leadership team felt it would be unsafe to proceed with the election in the summer during the COVID-19 pandemic and were granted an extension. But with no active cases in Cape Breton and the pandemic curve staying relatively flat in the area, the community felt it was safe enough to proceed with the elections.
While the CBRM elections went electronic, the Membertou election stayed with paper ballots. Although the voting station had strict protocols in place, longtime voter Paul Marshall said things were pretty much the same.
“Everyone’s spaced apart, 10 feet almost but nothing's really changed,” said the 57-year-old.
Marshall has voted in every election he could, the only gap being when off-reserve community members couldn’t vote that has since changed and he's voted ever since.
The polls were open at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Jenu room and electoral officer Chris LaPorte said previously the safety measures were essential to a safe election. They didn't want to change the process too much to ensure voters were comfortable.
Security was on hand to instruct voters where to go and to follow the social distancing measures. Masks and hand sanitizer were on hand and masks were given to anyone who needed them.
Voters were then led out the back door once their votes were casts. LaPorte said one issue during the pandemic was the log jam of mail and issues arose with mail-in ballots. But he spoke with Indigenous Services Canada about the issue and the election still moved ahead as planned.
For Phillip Tuplin, he felt the election was pretty much the same and the safety measures weren’t an issue.
“It seems to be the new normal,” said Tuplin.
He felt wearing a mask was the only thing different than casting his ballot in the last election four years ago.
Francis (Puddy) Christmas said the measures were a welcome sight.
“The tables were spaced far apart, I didn’t have any fear at all because I am fearful of all the diseases,” said Christmas, after casting her ballot.
The 56-year-old was excited to cast her ballot and was hopeful to see some changes. She wanted leadership in the community to show more compassion and to be more caring. Christmas was also proud of how far her community had come.
And that was the general attitude of many Membertou residents, one group pulled together funds to throw a mini pizza party in the Membertou Lanes parking lot. They gave out pizza, soda, tea and coffee and masks and hand sanitizer were also available. While many there voiced that they wanted change, they also said after the election they still had to come together as a community.
“We’re a community and we’ve been a community for a long time and as First Nations people we’ve come so far,” said Christmas.
The results of the election were not available at press time. Results are expected early Friday.