The time left to cast a ballot in the 2020 provincial election may have dwindled down to hours, but the three candidates vying for Saanich North and the Islands are nonetheless using them for some last-minute campaigning but also recreation before results start to arrive.
Incumbent MLA Adam Olsen joined a group of volunteers to stand at the corner of Beacon Avenue and Resthaven Drive for some sign waving with less than two-and-half hours left to cast a ballot. This last-minute campaign event comes against the backdrop of at least 12,083 voters having already cast their ballots in the advance voting. Another 16,136 residents had also requested a mail-in package.
These figures mean that more than half of eligible voters in the riding may have already cast a ballot (assuming all mail-ins will be returned) when the polling doors close at 8 p.m. These figures also mean that the outcome of the election might not be known on election eve itself.
“So who knows what will happen tonight,” said Olsen, who declined to offer a prediction. “I can predict that we are going to have a good result,” he said. “We did everything we could.”
Like Olsen, BC Liberal candidate Stephen Roberts is also aware of the low, in-person turnout, saying he is not sure how it is going to impact the final result.
Roberts for his part spent the morning on Salt Spring Island before spending the rest of the day in Sidney to make sure out people get out to vote during this historic election. New Democratic Zeb King also spent part of this Saturday campaigning on the phone but also spent some time in his garden. “I have a lot of gardening to catch up on,” he said. “Garlic planting is on my agenda for the next week.”
Perhaps by then, voters in Saanich North and the Islands will know who their MLA will be following this unprecedented election, which in many ways has not felt and looked like a typical election.
But as for turnout at the polls on Saturday, “Slow,” was the word used by Peter Mason, district electoral officer for Saanich North and the Islands.
Mason had spent the morning and early afternoon travelling to many of the 23 pollings stations in the riding and perhaps with the exception of the polling station at Sidney’s Mary Winspear, where he described turnout as “more steady,” turnout has been, well, slow.
There are 50,488 registered voters spread across the three major communities of the Saanich Peninsula, Salt Spring Island, and four smaller southern Gulf Islands. Mason estimates that some 10,000 residents will have cast their ballots when the local polling stations (15 on the Saanich Peninsula, four on Saltspring Island, and one each on the four smaller Islands) close their doors, a far cry from previous elections.
This reality, of course, reflects the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has inspired an unprecedented surge in advanced voting. Before election day dawned, 12,083 residents had taken part in advance voting in Saanich North and the Islands.
Posted by Peninsula News Review on Saturday, October 24, 2020
Mason also points to the high share of requested mail-in packages. According to Elections BC, 16,136 residents in the riding requested a package. While not all of them will actually find their way back to Elections BC, Mason estimates that some 12,600 residents will vote by mail, meaning that just close to 25,000 residents might have already cast their ballots. Based on a historic turnout for the riding of 70 per cent or so, this figure means some 10,000 voters might physically have voted in person, said Mason.
Voters coming out of various polling stations can speak to this.
“There was hardly anybody there,” said Nancy Chown, who had voted with her husband Roger at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre.
“It was really easy,” added Toni Lee, a few minutes later after casting her ballot. Plenty of space between the individual polling stations and a small number of actual voters made her feel very comfortable about voting in person, she said.
Mason, for his part, said he has not received any reports about any incidents at polling stations concerning COVID-19 measures.
The public, he said, has been very respectful. “We have been in this pandemic long enough that people get it,” he said.
Chris Locker, who took his three-year-old son Matthew and his mother-in-law to Lutheran Peace Church in Sidney, said the process could not have been smoother.
While outside observers may have found it difficult to discern that an election was happening, some voters were not shy in talking about their motivations.
Concerns about the fiscal state of the province were a motivating factor behind many votes. Other issues including homelessness, the opioid crisis, response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as Indigenous and environmental issues pushed voters to the polls.
Some also questioned the need for the election.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the ongoing pandemic, Elections BC estimates that roughly 35 per cent of voters used mail-in ballots, which will be counted beginning on Nov. 6. This means that tonight’s election results may change.
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