More than 20,000 people have requested to vote by mail just one day after the writ was dropped for the 2020 B.C. election, according to Elections BC statistics from 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday (Sept. 22).
According to Elections BC, the agency can process up to 200,000 mail-in ballots in time for the final count, which is legislated to begin no less than 13 days after Election Day. However, this year Elections BC believes that up to 35 per cent of voters, or around 800,000 people, could opt to mail in their ballot. The final count is due to begin on Nov. 6, with writs of election scheduled to be returned on Nov. 16, although Elections BC said that could take longer if counting is delayed.
That’s up from a typical one per cent, making for a stronger possibility that mail-in ballots can shift the results. In 2017, 61.2 per cent, or nearly two million people, voted in the provincial election. Of those people, about 6,500 people mailed in their ballots.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday (Sept. 22), Election BC CEO Anton Boegman said the agency did not yet know when final election results would be available after the Oct. 24 vote.
“If there are 800,000 it will take longer, I don’t know how much longer, but it will take longer,” Boegman said, noting that the final count of mail-in and other absentee ballots is legislated and must ensure that no one votes more than once in B.C.
He added that it “is conceivable” that B.C. could be without a result for some amount of time, “give or take” at least about three weeks. While final results are typically not available until about 17 days post-election, Boegman said that 90 per cent of ballots – both advanced and from the day of – are counted on Election Day. With 35 per cent of ballots expected to be cast by mail this year, it’s unclear how long final counts will take and what affect they will have on the results.
Boegman said that if the election had been held in October 2021 as originally scheduled, the agency could have used electronic voter books and tabulation machines to speed up the counting of mail-in ballots.
As final counts are completed in each electoral district, each one will declare its winning candidates in real time.
Elections BC said schools, which made up 44 per cent of Election Day voting location in 2017, will only be used on days when students are not in school; Oct. 17-18 during advanced voting and on the Saturday election day on Oct. 24. Elections BC will pay to sanitize the schools after voting and no students will be present at those locations.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that although public health and Elections BC have run through various scenarios and believe a safe election can be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said however that each area in B.C. will be assessed as new COVID-19 cases are reported and will make decisions as needed.
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