How B.C. election results may play out after an uncertain Saturday

Surge in mail-in voting could leave results unclear for weeks after election night

Photo: Elections BC

While the B.C. election horserace is set to conclude Saturday (October 24), officials are cautioning patience to voters usually accustomed to relatively quick and definitive results.

As of Thursday, 478,900 vote-by-mail packages have been returned out of the 724,279 sent out to registered voters in B.C.

That’s an increase of more than 7,200% compared with the 2017 provincial election, meaning in-person results tallied on Saturday won’t necessarily offer a clear indication of which party can form government.

Instead, absentee and mail-in ballots will play a factor unlike anything experienced in previous provincial elections.

“Never before has so many voters voted before election day in British Columbia electoral history,” B.C. chief electoral officer Anton Boegman said in a Friday media briefing.

“Normally, about 90% of the ballots cast in an election are counted at initial count. But it's very likely that figure will be much less in this election because of the significant increase in mail-in ballots.”

But those mail-in votes won’t begin to be tallied for 13 days.

Instead, there is a shipping and receiving phase in which the ballots are sent from Canada Post’s central processing centre in Richmond and then onto their respective ridings for counting.

That will be followed by a screening phase to ensure the voter on the envelope is the one who cast the ballot.

After 13 days, election officials in all ridings will begin counting ballots by hand.

Bogeman said each of the 87 ridings have a core staff of 10-12 individuals but he added those numbers could be augmented “as needed” during the vote count.

“We're looking at, can we apply more resources to that? Is there work that some staff can do centrally at headquarters in addition to that to help make that process go more quickly? Can the district electoral officer apply additional resources and have counting teams supporting them during the final count in the game to be able to process the increased number of ballots within the time that we'd like it to take place?” he said.

So far 681,055 British Columbians have cast ballots in in advance voting compared with the 617,175 who did so in 2017.

Those ballots will be counted at the same time as the in-person ballots on election night.

In 2017, 1,207,375 voters cast ballots in person but that number is expected to drop with the surge in mail-in voting packages.

Because of the surge in vote-by-mail ballots, Elections BC is warning it may even require an extension beyond the 13-day period following election night.

While final count usually lasts three days, results will likely be staggered by riding as they each have different numbers of mail-in ballots that need to be counted.

For example, 813 mail-in voting packages have been delivered to Peace River South as of October 22 compared with 18,363 packages delivered to Victoria-Beacon Hill.

A recount can be requested within six days of the report of final results in the event of a tie between two top candidates or a margin of less than 1/500 of total ballots.

Elections BC aims to begin the final count by November 6, but it can’t guarantee that date due to the surge of mail-in voting packages.

Officials have been urging voters to submit their ballots by October 17 to ensure they would be counted in the election.

Bogeman said he’s confident that if voters submitted mail-in ballots by October 19 or 20, they would be received in time to be counted.

Votes mailed in after election night will not be tallied towards the final result.

But for those uncertain about whether their mail-in ballots submitted in the last week have been received, Elections BC said it cannot offer any confirmation to those voters.

If those mail-in voters then go ahead and also vote in-person, Bogeman cautioned Elections BC will only count one vote.

He said election officials always investigate instances in which multiple votes have been cast.

In one instance in 2009, he said a voter attempted to vote five times.

The case was referred to the RCMP but the individual had by then departed Canada for Chile.