VICTORIA -- After being delayed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voting has now begun for the lone vacant seat on Victoria city council.

The advance polling station opened at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Crystal Gardens on Douglas Street for people wishing to cast an early ballot in the municipal byelection. The polling station will be open for eight days leading up to general voting day on Dec. 12.

“We’re certainly planning for a lot of voters,” said City of Victoria chief election officer Chris Coates. “We’ve doubled up on our voting tabulators so we can move folks through more quickly and we are basically ready for anything.”

One of the things staff are ready for is keeping people safe while following COVID-19 protocols as they cast their ballots. Staff will be greeting people at the door and asking standard COVID-19 health questions before being admitted inside to vote.

“We have dedicated staff in the facility to make sure that everything is kept clean on a regular basis,” said Coates. “All of our staff are wearing masks and all the folks going in have to wear masks as well in accordance with the health orders.”

For people who prefer to stay at home and vote by mail, Coates says city staff are still processing requests for mail-in ballots. He says there have been more than 3,000 requests from Victoria residents who wish to cast their ballot by mail.

“We’re getting requests everyday since the intake opened, so our staff are moving through them as quickly as possible and getting them out to the people,” said Coates. “We’re getting them out to the people as quickly as we can and there are very few instances where the ballot isn’t processed on the same day.”

Coates says because staff want people to have every opportunity to use the mail-in option to vote, it is recommended that mail-in ballots be sent to the city no later than Dec. 4. He also reminds people that leading up to general election day, completed ballots can be dropped off at Victoria City Hall or the advance polling station at Crystal Gardens. On Dec. 12, ballots may also be dropped off at any polling station by 8 p.m.

“We’ve done everything that we can do in our safety plans to ensure the voting is safe and that it will be dealt with efficiently,” said Coates. “Certainly, there are lots of options for people to come out and vote.”

For information on how you can cast your ballot in the Victoria city council byelection, visit the City of Victoria website.