Final results in the B.C. election could be delayed by at least two weeks because as many as one in three people may cast their votes by mail, the province’s elections agency says.
Elections BC said on Tuesday it is reorienting on-site voting for the Oct. 24 election to include safety procedures such as asking voters to wear masks – which they won’t have to remove at polling stations – and allowing them to bring their own pen or pencil to mark a ballot.
But the non-partisan office of the legislature said on Tuesday that while 1 per cent of votes in past elections were cast by mail – an option since 1991 – surveys conducted in May and August indicated 30 per cent to 35 per cent could be mailed in this time.
Between the election call on Monday and Tuesday’s news conference, 20,000 voters had requested mail-in ballots, Elections BC officials said in a briefing for journalists and a news conference.
Under the elections act, counting of mail-in ballots can only begin 13 days after voting day, and the final count takes two to three days.
Asked whether the outcome will be known on the evening of voting day, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman said there will be a count of all ballots during advance voting and on election day.
“Typically on an election, this equates to around 90 per cent of the ballot," he said. "If there is a significant demand for vote by mail and other absentee ballots in this election, then obviously those percentages will change.”
He added, “It is possible there will be a delay before the final results are known. Our commitment, again, is to make sure the count is conducted as quickly as possible.”
In a background briefing and news conference, Elections BC said it began planning for a potential election in April, reaching out to the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, counterparts in New Brunswick, which recently had a provincial vote, and monitoring elections, including primaries, in the United States.
The result has been a plan that includes physical distancing in voting places, personal protective equipment for elections officials, and the frequent cleaning of voting stations and frequently touched places in them.
As of Sept. 20, B.C. had 3.5 million registered voters. In the 2017 election, turnout was 61 per cent, up from 57 per cent in 2013.
“I have a high level of confidence in the electoral processes that we have put in place,” Mr. Boegman said.
Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, said her team has always been mindful of the possibility of an election. “The plans that we have in place will allow this election to happen, and our important democratic process to occur,” she said.
During the Elections BC briefing, an official speaking on condition they not be named said lessons learned from other jurisdictions included urging voters to dress appropriately for waiting in line outside in inclement weather. Also, planning is under way in case unusually high numbers of election workers drop out. “This is happening in many jurisdictions that have been dealing with this,” said the official, who added 15 per cent more people will be hired as a contingency. In addition, there will be careful communications with landlords of property acquired for voting to address their concerns.
On the campaign trail, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said voters won’t be able to get to large meetings and gatherings because of the pandemic, but still need access to candidates.
“It’s a pandemic election. We’ve never done this before. We’re saying the way to get more information for British Columbians is with three televised debates between John Horgan, [Green Leader] Sonia Furstenau and me so that we can each present the vision and the future that we see for British Columbia straight to the voters," he said in Surrey.
BC NDP Leader John Horgan said the decision on debates was up to his strategists, but he was happy to talk to British Columbians in any format.
Mr. Horgan said he was “absolutely confident” the election can be safe. “I realize and recognize that people are anxious. I know that. I understand that. My neighbors feel the same way.” However, he said he is searching for support from voters on governing B.C. “Let’s pick a government that will take us through the next four years.”
Mr. Horgan said he regularly talked with Dr. Henry about the pandemic, and she provided the information that enabled him to make a final decision on whether to ask the Lieutenant- Governor to dissolve the House.
“She made it clear to me that an election could be conducted safely. The decision to call an election was mine and mine alone.”
Dr. Henry said her team has been advising parties and their candidates on best practices to keep staff, volunteers and local communities safe during the campaign.
Ms. Furstenau said her party will follow the guidelines of Dr. Henry and Elections BC.
“We will put the safety and the well-being of our candidates, our staff, our volunteers and the public at the forefront of everything we do. We have to ensure that we are not putting any risk on anybody in this unnecessary election.”
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