British Columbia

B.C. election turnout sinks to all-time low

Preliminary numbers show only 52.4 per cent of people registered to vote did so in the snap fall election.

According to early numbers, only 52.4% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the provincial election

People walk by a voting station in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Barely half of B.C.'s registered voters cast a ballot in Saturday's provincial election, according to preliminary estimates by Elections BC, making the rate of participation the lowest ever in records going back to 1928.

Preliminary figures show only 52.4 per cent of people registered to vote did so, either in person or by requesting a vote-by-mail package, according to Elections BC, although it expects that number to rise once all votes have been tabulated.

The previous low turnout of 55.14 per cent was in the 2009 provincial election. 

Political watcher Gerald Baier says the low turnout is a likely a consequence of the current "weird times" brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'm inclined to give voters of British Columbia a mulligan on this one, in the sense that I don't think it signals a broader pattern in voter turnout," said the associate professor of political science at the University of B.C.

Mask-wearing NDP Leader John Horgan casts his vote at an advance poll. Horgan called the snap election one year earlier than the fixed date. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

"In fact, we've seen increasing voter turnout for the last little while for the same reasons that it was possible to vote this time: a lot of mail-in ballots, a lot of advanced polls, a lot of absentee opportunities."

This 52.4 per cent figure represents a drop of almost nine points from the 61.18 per cent turnout in the 2017 provincial election, when Premier John Horgan came to power with a minority government.

Almost 3.5 million British Columbians were registered to vote this time around in a snap election called by Horgan one year earlier than the fixed election date and in the middle of the pandemic.

University of B.C. political science professor Gerald Baier says low voter turnout for the 2020 provincial election isn't necessarily indicative of a broader trend. (Kevin Li/CBC)

Political watchdog Democracy Watch says "Premier Horgan's power-mad snap election" during the pandemic proves electoral reforms are needed. 

"The B.C. parties promised almost nothing in their platforms to clean up politics in the province," said Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher. "But the dishonest, unethical and illegal snap election shows clearly that many changes are needed to stop dirty politics in B.C." 

Last week, Democracy Watch filed a lawsuit against Horgan's early election call, claiming it violated B.C.'s Constitution Act. 

Projections in this year's election have Horgan and the NDP turning their minority into a firm majority by taking 55 of 87 seats.

The B.C. Liberals are projected to win 29 seats and the B.C. Greens three.

With over half a million mail-in ballots still to be counted, officials don't expect to deliver the final results before Nov. 16.

Elections BC says a record number 525,000 mail-in ballots have been received.


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