Final vote count could be delayed by significant increase in mail-in ballots

Final results in B.C.’s provincial election could be delayed even beyond the anticipated two weeks as the demand for mail-in ballots ­continues to climb.

Elections B.C. said Tuesday that an estimated 680,000 registered ­voters have requested a vote-by-mail package.

During the 2017 provincial ­election, 11,000 voters requested a mail-in ballot, although only 6,517 actually returned their packages on time, said Elections B.C. ­communications director Andrew Watson.

“It’s obviously a very significant increase. Many more voters are using it this time,” he said.

Votes cast on election day and votes cast in advance polls from ­people who voted in their district will be counted on Oct. 24, election night.

“Usually, that’s 90 per cent of the ballots in the election,” said Watson. “But of course with this really dramatic increase in mail-in ballots that we have seen, it’s likely the proportion of ballots counted on election night will be less.”

B.C.’s Elections Act stipulates that the final count of absentee ballots must not take place until 13 days after the election.

Absentee ballots include mail-in ballots, people who vote at a district electoral office, people who vote at advance polls outside of their electoral district and a voter who is voting at a ­location which is not their assigned voting place on election day. The final count of the absentee ballots normally takes two days. In 2017, there were about 200,000 absentee ballots.

“Both those timelines may change during this election. Obviously, there are a lot more ballots which will go through that process than in 2017,” said Watson.

The past, Elections B.C. has been able to verify all the absentee ballots in the 13 days after the election.

“This time, it could be longer than the normal 13 days. Certainly, it will be a focus for us to complete that work as fast as we can and we’re adding a lot more resources than we have in the past, recognizing there’s a lot more ballots to count,” said Watson.

The absentee ballots are verified manually and counted manually.

In 2019, the provincial ­government passed legislation to allow greater use of technology and Elections B.C. was working to have it in place for 2021, said Watson.

“But of course with this being an unscheduled election, those changes to the process won’t be used this time,” he said.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot by phone or online is Oct. 17 and Elections B.C. is encouraging voters to make the request as soon as possible.

“It takes time for us to process the request and then assemble the package to the voter and then ­actually mail it to them,” he said.

Elections B.C. is also ­recommending that mail-in ballots be returned through the mail by Oct. 17 at the latest. After Oct. 17, they should be returned in person at a district electoral office or at any voting place during voting hours on Oct. 24. Mail-in ballots must be received by 8 p.m on Oct. 24, said Watson.

“After the polls close, we can’t receive them any more.”

So far, Elections B.C. has received 138,500 completed mail-in ballots. There are 3,485,858 registered ­voters in B.C. In 2017, about two million people voted in the provincial ­election.

On Vancouver Island, 11,654 voters in Courtenay-Comox have requested vote by mail packages; 10,165 in the Cowichan Valley; 11,590 in Esquimalt-Metchosin; 11,391 in Langford-Juan de Fuca; 7,083 in mid-Island-Pacific Rim; 10,939 in Nanaimo; 9,480 in ­Nanaimo-North Cowichan; 7,545 in North Island; 14,976 in Oak Bay-Gordon Head; 13,476 in ­Parksville-Qualicum; 15,197 in ­Saanich North and the Islands; 13,411 in Saanich South; 17,287 in Victoria-Beacon Hill and 12,182 in Victoria-Swan Lake.

© New West Record