8 Sask. ridings too close to call, including NDP Leader Ryan Meili's, with mail-in ballots still to be counted

Dr. Neil Hibbert, department head at the University of Saskatchewan’s department of political science, said he’s not aware of any time in Saskatchewan’s history the province has been faced with this type of situation during an election.

As of Oct. 26, Elections Saskatchewan has received roughly 40,000 of 61,255 requested mail-in ballots

Election workers count ballots following the closure of the polls at 8 p.m. CST on Oct. 26 in this photo sent out from the Elections Saskatchewan's official Twitter account. (Twitter/ElectionsSask)

The campaigns have ended, but the election is far from over.

That's because eight Saskatchewan electoral districts are in races too tight to call with thousands of mail-in ballots yet to be counted.

Mail-in ballots reached record-high levels due to the pandemic, with 61,255 ballots requested and more than 40,000 returned to Elections Saskatchewan by election day.

That's a huge increase from the 4,420 mail-in ballots received during the 2016 provincial election.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili's riding in flux

Prince Albert Northcote, Regina Coronation Park, Regina Pasqua, Regina University, Saskatoon Eastview, Saskatoon Meewasin, Saskatoon Riversdale and Saskatoon University were all declared too close to call by CBC News due to the volume of mail-in ballots still to be counted.

The Saskatchewan NDP did not put up candidates in these tight races for interviews, saying it is waiting for results to be finalized.

Rylund Hunter, who is running against the Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili, thanked his team for their efforts in a statement sent to media.

"Saskatoon Meewasin is a really tight race at this point. Big thanks to my team of volunteers and those that supported me at the polls. We will have to wait on the mail-in ballot count to see the final result." 

Chris Guérette became the Saskatchewan Party candidate in the electoral district of Saskatoon Eastview after original candidate Daryl Cooper resigned when it was made public he had interacted with QAnon supporters online. As election night concluded, NDP candidate Matt Love was leading Guérette by less than 100 votes in a riding where more than 1,500 mail-in ballots have been approved.

Guérette said waiting on mail-in ballots is "the reality of an election during a pandemic" and that she's excited to see what the results hold.

"That's what the process is all about. The democratic process is one that requires patience and it just means this marathon is requiring a few more days and I look forward to hearing the results."

Neil Hibbert, department head at the University of Saskatchewan's department of political science, said he's not aware of any time in Saskatchewan's history the province has been faced with this type of situation during an election.

"It really sits at odds with people's experience and expectations with elections," said Hibbert. "Generally, there's this sort of build up to the one big day, a bit of early voting maybe, but the majority of ballots being cast on election day."

He said it's common for people to gather after polls close and watch the results roll in as candidates concede or claim victory. He said this "puts a bow on the process," allowing the province to move forward.

Elections Saskatchewan has already recieved 40,000 vote-by-mail ballots. (Submitted by Elections Saskatchewan)

In this election people may be waiting days to hear final results. 

The count for mail-in ballots received by Oct. 26 won't be started until Oct. 28, with mail-in ballots received after election day being counted Nov. 7.

Hibbert said the longer the timeframe between election day and the results, the more possibilities there are for "little bumps along the road," which may include candidates seeking legal advice or challenging ballots.

He said he feels it's important to practise a bit of patience as the results are tallied. 

"Ultimately, an accurate count is more important than an immediate or a timely one," he said.

Saskatchewan's Chief Electoral Officer Michael Boda poses for a photo with two of the ballots being used in the 2020 Saskatchewan Election. (Submitted by Elections Saskatchewan)

Michael Boda, Saskatchewan's Chief Electoral Officer, said mail-in and advance ballots were used to spread out voting as much as possible to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

He said that while more than 61,000 mail-in ballots were approved, Elections Saskatchewan has no idea how many of those will be returned, saying the counting of ballots will be a "very different process" than the 2016 election. 

"In Saskatchewan, normally the election is pretty much over on election night," said Boda. "Because we have such a large number of people vote-by-mail ballots, and there may be some close races, in those instances they may depend on the vote-by-mail count." 

Boda stressed that the first two counts, on Oct. 26 and Oct. 28, are considered preliminary counts, with a Nov. 7 count being considered final. Counting could be slowed by the fact election workers are using gloves, as opposed to their bare hands, as they manually count the vote, Boda said.

While Boda has helped guide elections through natural disasters and violence in the decades he's been working as an electoral officer, he conceded running Saskatchewan's election during a pandemic is a first for him. 

"It has been challenging. It has been unique, I will say it has been interesting," he said. 

Hibbert said so many people being willing to take the extra steps to cast their ballot during a pandemic is something to be noted. 

"If you think about it, it's kind of a remarkable achievement that people are willing to adjust and be flexible in real time," he said.

Tight races by the numbers: votes tallied so far and mail-in ballots pending

Prince Albert Northcote

Sask Party, Alana Ross: 2,393

NDP, Nicole Rancourt: 2,171

Difference: 222

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 568

Regina Coronation Park

Sask. Party, Mark Docherty: 2,652

NDP, Noor Burki: 2,202

Difference: 450

Mail-in Ballots to be counted: 806

Regina Pasqua

Sask. Party, Muhammad Fiaz: 3,781

NDP, Bhajan Brar: 3,205 

Difference: 576

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 2,674 

Regina University

SaskParty, Tina Beaudry-Mellor: 2,573

NDP, Aleana Young: 2,395

Difference: 178

Mail-in Ballots to be counted: 1,814

Saskatoon Eastview

NDP, Matt Love: 3,127

Sask. Party, Chris Guérette: 3,025

Difference: 102

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,555

Saskatoon Riversdale: 

Sask. Party, Marv Friesen: 2,661

NDP, Ashlee Hicks: 2,387

Difference: 274

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 920 

Saskatoon Meewasin

Sask. Party, Rylund Hunter: 2,805 

NDP, Ryan Meili: 2,722

Difference: 83

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,656

Saskatoon University

NDP, Jennifer Bowes: 2,414 

Sask. Party, Eric Olauson: 2,309

Difference: 105 

Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,296

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