Nfld. & Labrador

Breaking down ballot-counting: Why it could be April before we know N.L.'s election results

Counting mail-in ballots for Newfoundland and Labrador's election could take up to a month, as Elections NL gears up to receive potentially tens of thousands of envelopes to open, sort and tally.

155,000 special ballots to be counted, says Elections NL

Elections Newfoundland and Labrador says counting some 188,000 possible ballots could take up to a month. (CBC)

Counting mail-in ballots for Newfoundland and Labrador's election could take up to a month, according to Elections NL, as the agency gears up to receive potentially tens of thousands of envelopes to open, sort and tally.

That means results might not be revealed until April, confirmed chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk on Monday afternoon, although he expressed optimism that the team will finish processing the votes sooner than that.

"That's what I've estimated, that it would be three weeks," said Chaulk. Depending on how many votes come back and when, the process could take up to 30 days, he added.

Although some voting kits have not yet been mailed out, Chaulk told CBC News he's confident they'll be received by voters in time, and counting will likely begin prior to the March 12 deadline for ballots to be postmarked, he added.

Sixteen people are enlisted to count the votes, according to Chaulk, and will likely work regular hours, seven days a week, to prevent fatigue-related mistakes.

Elections NL will have to count about 155,000 special ballots mailed or delivered directly to local agency offices. This figure includes some 120,000 special ballots requested since Feb. 12, when in-person voting was cancelled due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The 33,353 ballots cast in the advance poll on Feb. 6 will also need to be tallied, according to the agency, for about 188,000 possible votes.

Mail-in system slower

Chaulk said counting mail-in ballots is a two-part process. First, clerks identify the voter. "You have to strike that person off the list as their ballot having come back," he explained.

Then the clerk opens the envelope and places the ballot into a ballot box, sorted by constituency. Once full, those boxes are opened and counted, he said. "That's actually a fairly quick process," he said, akin to how elections workers tally votes in a normal election.

Because of the weeks-long count, Chaulk said, he has advised the parties they are entitled to a scrutineer to monitor the process.

"They're concerned with what is an accepted ballot and what is a rejected ballot," he said of those overseers. "But they won't be seeing the counts themselves at each table," to prevent leaked information on who may be leading the pack, especially if counting begins before the deadline.

Although the number of active COVID-19 cases continues to decline across the province, Chaulk confirmed the election would not return to in-person voting.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler


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