In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s snap election means 700k ballots will be counted manually, delaying results

Elections BC spokesman said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one

British Columbia residents won’t learn the results of next Saturday’s snap election for at least two weeks after polls close thanks to the need to count hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots by hand.

Officials with Elections BC said more than 700,000 votes have been cast by mail-in ballot, which must be tabulated manually due the timing of the Oct. 24 election. The results that would generally be available hours after the polls close, they added, will be postponed for weeks while the votes are counted.

The setup may have been different had the election taken place a year from now as scheduled, but NDP Leader John Horgan announced the surprise campaign, citing the need for political stability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislative changes recommended by the province’s chief electoral officer and passed in 2019 are expected to kick in next year, allowing a large number of ballots to be processed quickly and centrally by “tabulators,” which have been used in provincial referendums.

Instead, Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one. Current legislation means the counting can’t start until 13 days after the election, he added.

“Those time periods could take longer, given the really unprecedented and historic volume of mail-in ballots,” Watson said.

Extra time is needed to ensure ballots mailed to Elections BC from anywhere in the province can be shipped for counting to district offices where voters live, he said.

Each ballot must be screened to ensure the person was registered and eligible to vote and has not voted more than once. Two more days will be needed to count the ballots, Watson said.

He said the province with 3.4 million registered voters has received more than 700,000 requests for mail-in ballots as of early this weekend, compared to roughly 6,500 such requests during the 2017 campaign.

Next year’s legislative changes will also include a modernized network that would record ballots cast at polling stations in real time. Names will no longer be crossed off a paper list, and the information will be immediately accessible to Elections BC, Watson said.

“It would have been in place for 2021, but not now,” he said. “That will be a focus for us after the election.”

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals pledge $750M to build or buy more social housing

Watson said the system being adopted in B.C., is already available to some degree in at least two provinces, including Ontario and New Brunswick.

“Ballots would be fed into the tabulators throughout the day and then at the end of the night it would just be a matter of calculating the results and reporting them to the head office based on what the tabulated report reads,” he said, adding the same technology would be used for absentee and mail-in ballots.

As for British Columbia’s election on Saturday, Watson said Elections BC will hire more staff to count mail-in ballots in districts where a high number of residents requested them.

In Saskatchewan, where election day is Oct. 26, nearly 63,000 vote-by mail applications were received as of last Thursday, Elections Saskatchewan said of the province with 817,000 registered voters.

The ballots will be counted at the election administrator’s office in Regina rather than the province’s 61 returning districts, starting two days after the election. But the final result of the vote will not be known until Nov. 7.

READ MORE: Horgan on delayed tourism, small business aid: ‘It’s happening now, dude’

There were no such snags when New Brunswick residents went to the polls last month.

Paul Harpell, a spokesman for Elections New Brunswick, said about 13,000 residents among 547,000 registered voters had asked for mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14 election in the province where 100 people typically vote by mail.

Harpell said tabulators processed the ballots the day before the election, and more ballots, including those brought in by voters by 8 p.m. on election day, were handled by the machines by 11 p.m. that evening, a couple of hours after the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected.

But he described the situation as less than ideal, noting the ballots were processed in 49 returning districts with the help of harried staff handling an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots.

“I still think we want to centralize it because we know that the returning districts weren’t built to handle that degree of mail,” Harpell said, adding that will be especially important if the pandemic-related push to cast ballots by mail will prompt more people to vote the same way in future elections.

“I wish B.C. good luck because that’s a phenomenal amount of mail, 700,000 ballots. That’s insane.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nikita, a four-year-old German Shepherd that was attacked by a buck in a backyard in Esquimalt Sunday is lucky the injury wasn't more severe. (Photo contributed by Suzette Goldsworthy)
Esquimalt dog owner issues alert after deer injures German shepherd

Nikita needed stitches after an early morning encounter

The Victoria Police Department headquarters. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation launched into man’s death after arrest in Victoria

IIO investigation to determine if police actions or inaction played a role in the man’s death

(Black Press Media file photo)
Police arrest man covered in blood on heels of significant Saanich crash into woods

Resident calls in home invasion in progress after crash

Capital Regional District Animal Control say an eight-month-old Rottweiler bit a Langford mother and her child near Glen Lake on Nov. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Large dog attacks mother and child in Langford

Mother puts three-year-old on top of car to protect him

Victoria School for Ideal Education at 2820 Belmont Avenue is the second school in Greater Victoria with an active confirmed COVID-19 exposure. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Private school becomes second Greater Victoria school with COVID-19 exposure

Victoria School for Ideal Education follows Lakeview Christian School in Saanich

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read