Why we might not know the winner on Nova Scotia's election night
Elections Nova Scotia could stop counting ballots at midnight, delaying the results until the next day
Nova Scotians might have to wait an extra day to find out who will form the next provincial government.
Unlike in previous years, Elections Nova Scotia can now stop counting ballots at midnight, delaying the results until sometime the next day.
Naomi Shelton, the agency's director of policy and communications, said if it seems like the count could go into the early morning hours, the chief electoral officer can decide to stop the count.
"Due to worker fatigue, he may need to consider ending the count at midnight and reconvening the next day at 10 a.m.," Shelton said Monday.
"Hopefully that is a last resort, but we want people to be aware of that so that you're prepared in case that happens."
Increase in early votes, write-in ballots
Shelton said an increase in early votes is likely to push counting past that midnight hour on Aug. 17.
As of Tuesday — one week before Election Day — 68,799 votes were cast early at returning offices, advance polls and community polls, compared to only 31,291 at the same point in the 2017 election.
Shelton said although the ballots are submitted early, they can't be counted early.
"It protects the integrity of the vote," she said. "We wouldn't want to have any kind of returns early in the public eye. It may influence voters who still have not voted."
Nova Scotia's Elections Act says early ballots, and those submitted on Election Day, can't be counted until polls close at 8 p.m. AT.
Shelton said there's also been an increase in write-in ballots, otherwise known as mail-in ballots, during this provincial election.
Write-in ballots are the only votes that can be counted early, but only at the discretion of the chief electoral officer, according to the act.
Shelton said Elections Nova Scotia is expected to start counting write-in ballots as early as 4 p.m. on election day.
As of Tuesday, the agency has processed 6,568 applications for write-in ballots, compared to only 1,644 votes at the same point in 2017.
"When there's a high volume of ballots in a write-in ballot poll, the chief electoral officer will direct that returning officer to begin their count early," she said.
Safety protocols could slow count
Shelton said the increase in early votes and write-in ballots is likely a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people want to avoid long lines on election day.
Lines could be even longer this year as physical distancing will be enforced, but Shelton said anyone in line to vote before 8 p.m. will be able to vote.
Shelton said COVID-19 regulations such as gathering limits and physical distancing will slow the counting process.
Shelton said Nova Scotians should anticipate a delay and asked them to be patient.
"We will do our best to ensure timely returns for unofficial results," she said.
With files from Brett Ruskin