New 'vote anywhere' legislation could delay some Alberta election results
'We probably won’t know until we start the count how many days it’s going to take'
Eligible voters in Alberta will be allowed to vote in advance at any polling station in the province in the upcoming provincial election.
This is the first time that has been allowed in a general election, following changes made to Bill 32: The Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta in 2017.
Elections Alberta staff say the changes were made in an effort to get more people to the polls.
"We find it a really exciting thing to add for the convenience for electors to be able to go to a poll at any location," said Pamela Renwick, director of operations and communication at Elections Alberta.
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But the changes to advance voting could mean unofficial results would be delayed.
All advance ballots cast by people outside of their polling places will need to be sent to Elections Alberta's Edmonton warehouse to be counted, Renwick said.
"If we have a lot of people take us up on voting anywhere, and there's a lot of ballots that need to be counted, that clearly takes longer," she said.
"We probably won't know until we start the count how many days it's going to take."
Advance ballots cast at voters' designated polling stations along with election day votes will be tallied as usual, Renwick says.
There will be a delay in getting the results from the ballots cast outside of their electoral division, she added.
All those votes will be sent to Edmonton via government courier.
The longest distance the courier will travel to transport ballots is from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, with at most a two-day turnaround, Renwick said.
The travel time of the courier and ballot counting could delay election results for close races, Renwick said
"This is definitely going to cause a challenge for those covering this event and those wanting to know what has happened. Wherever there is a close race, definitely all of the votes that need to be counted here could have an impact on it."
Elections Alberta hopes the change to Bill 32 and the addition of one more advance voting day will help get more people to vote.
Advance voting numbers in Alberta's last provincial election increased by 31 per cent compared to 2012. In 2015, there were 235,410 people who advance voted. In 2012, there were 179,820 at the advance polls.
Generally voters have not shown up at advance polls in droves, but this election could be different, said Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientists at MacEwan University.
"The voter participation is abysmal in many parts of Canada," Mensah said. "My sense is that [Bill 32] is essentially designed to ease the participation process for many individuals who may not have the time to make it to the polls."
How it will work
Though Elections Alberta is not considering online voting at this time, it will use an electronic poll book to keep track of voters who opt to cast their ballots somewhere other than their polling stations.
"We don't want people to vote in one location and not be crossed off the list," said Renwick.
The ballot each voter will receive will be much larger too, said Renwick. It'll be the size of a standard piece of office paper and will be put into a different ballot box than other advance ballots, said Elections Alberta staff.
All of those 'vote anywhere' ballots won't be recorded until we're done the count so there will be a delay.- Pamela Renwick, Elections Alberta
Those separate ballots cast by people outside of their electoral divisions will only be counted after election night, Renwick said.
"All of those 'vote anywhere' ballots won't be recorded until we're done the count, so there will be a delay," she said.
Mensah said changes to Bill 32 may get more people to vote.
"Using advance polls and making them easily available and accessible to many participants is a good step," Mensah said.
There is no official date yet for when the provincial election will be held.