British Columbia

Hundreds of thousands of votes won't be counted in B.C.'s election until November. Will it matter?

As of Oct. 18, around 235,800 people had sent mail-in ballots to Elections BC headquarters for the provincial election. There are more than 490,000 additional vote-by-mail packages that could be returned by election day on Oct. 24, in time to be counted. 

Most riding results are known once more than half the votes are counted

The final result of British Columbia's provincial election may not be known for at least two weeks because of the potential that 700,000 mail-in ballots will have to be counted by hand, many of which could be in close races. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

As of Oct. 18, around 235,800 people had sent mail-in ballots to Elections BC headquarters for the provincial election. There are more than 490,000 additional vote-by-mail packages that could be returned by election day on Oct. 24, in time to be counted. 

In total, that's more than 20 per cent of registered voters in B.C. — leaving the possibility that it could be weeks until the final result of the election is known. 

"It's definitely unprecedented," said Elections BC spokesperson Andrew Watson. 

"It is a really, really significant increase. But is one we anticipated, for some degree."

Here's why all those votes won't be counted until November, and how it could impact election night. 

Preventing voter fraud

Elections BC will wait 13 days after general voting day to count mail-in ballots, as they have in previous elections. 

According to Watson, it's because of how long it takes to validate those ballots. 

"Voters can return their mail-in ballot at any location across the province. After election day we actually send the mail-in ballots back to the voter's districts, and they go through a number of screening steps to make sure no multiple voting occurred, to make sure the voter was registered and eligible to vote," he said. 

"It's actually a really important part of the process in ensuring the integrity of our system in B.C."

Elections BC has revealed how many ballots have been requested in each riding, from 18,363 in Victoria-Beacon Hill to just 813 in Peace River South.

But the exact number returned in each riding won't be known by election day. 

"It's certainly data we know the public will be interested in … and we'll be providing it as fast as we can after election day, said Watson.

"But the exact timing will depend on how many ballots we get right up until the deadline, and how fast we get them back to the district where the voter resides."

Most ridings aren't close

Will that matter on Oct. 24, a few hours after polls close? 

The short answer is, it depends. If the result is like 2017, when the NDP and Liberals were neck and neck on election night, there could be many ridings where the mail-in ballots could make a difference.

"It's possible that the full picture of the outcome of the election won't be known until the final count of absentee ballots is complete," said Watson. 

However, even in 2017, only six ridings in B.C. were decided by fewer than a thousand votes. Even with all the additional mail-in ballots this election, the vast majority of the races are likely to be called on election night — particularly if polls showing an NDP lead are accurate

Put another way, if the results are as close as they were in 2017, there could be enough seats in question where the mail-in count could determine who forms government.     

But if it's like the vast majority of elections B.C., all those mail-in ballots will be the epilogue to the election, not the climax.

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