British Columbia

Mail-in voting will play major role in B.C. election, officials say

More than a third of voters in B.C. are expected to vote by mail in the upcoming provincial election, according to officials, with thousands of people already having asked to receive their ballot by mail since the campaign began 24 hours ago.

20,000 voters requested mail-in ballots within 24 hours of election being called

A polling station for the 2017 B.C. election. British Columbians are going back to the polls on Oct. 24. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

More than a third of voters in B.C. are expected to vote by mail in the upcoming provincial election, according to officials, with thousands of people already having asked to receive their ballot by mail since the campaign began 24 hours ago.

Elections BC said Tuesday between 35 and 40 per cent of voters — around 800,000 people — are expected to vote by mail in the Oct. 24. race.

The office said it has already received 20,000 requests to vote by mail since NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election Monday morning.

By contrast, only 6,500 people asked to vote by mail during the entire 2017 campaign. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday she also expects more people will opt to submit their ballots by mail.

The avalanche of mail-in ballots could delay the final election count beyond the traditional 17 days after election night.

Absentee ballots, including mail-in ballots, are not allowed to be counted in B.C. until the "final count" at least 13 days after the election. This year, that means Nov. 6 at the earliest.

B.C.’s next provincial election will be held on Oct. 24. (CBC)

"If there are a significant amount of absentee ballots, including vote-by-mail ballots, the preparation time before final count may take longer. We don't know what that may be because we do not know the volume of the absentee ballots and vote-by-mail ballots," B.C.'s chief electoral officer, Anton Boegman, said Tuesday.

Typically, absentee ballots only count for about 10 per cent of total votes cast in a provincial election, so the final count rarely changes the results posted on election night.

But this year, if there are far more mail-in ballots than usual, the results on election night could be less clear.

The delay before the final count, mandatory under legislation introduced in 1996, is to make sure Elections BC has time to verify ballots and ensure no one tried to vote twice by mailing in a ballot and then going to a polling station on election day.

How voting will work under COVID-19

Boegman, B.C.'s top elections official, provided more detail Tuesday as to how voting will look during a pandemic, including opportunities to vote by mail as well as physical distancing and other pandemic safety measures at polling stations.

Elections BC confirmed schools, which made up 44 per cent of voting places in the 2017 election, will only be used as voting places on weekend voting dates this year, including election day. Campuses will never be used for voting while students are present. Long-term care homes will not be used, either.

The office said it is still looking for alternative locations to use as voting places, especially in rural areas of the province.

Horgan said he called an early election Monday because the current reality of a minority government could create "instability" in the province's economic and health response to COVID-19 in the months and years to come. 

Both Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have assured the public that the campaign won't disrupt the provincial response to the pandemic.

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