Challenges, successes in provincial vote during pandemic outlined in Elections Sask. report

·3 min read
Elections Saskatchewan chief electoral officer Michael Boda oversees mail-in ballot counting on Oct. 28, 2020, following the Oct. 26 provincial election. (Elections Saskatchewan - image credit)
Elections Saskatchewan chief electoral officer Michael Boda oversees mail-in ballot counting on Oct. 28, 2020, following the Oct. 26 provincial election. (Elections Saskatchewan - image credit)

Elections Saskatchewan's latest annual report details the trials, tribulations and successes in holding a provincial vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization's 2020-21 annual report, released Friday, is a reflection on how well the organization is doing in terms of reaching goals set out in its long-term plan, says the province's chief electoral officer.

Michael Boda said he was already seeing an emerging downward trend in voting in-person on election day. That dropped further in the 2020 election, which delivered Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party its fourth consecutive majority.

Provincial voting trends show a shift from election day voting toward advance voting and vote-by-mail options instead, the Elections Saskatchewan annual report says.

Only 45 per cent of those who voted in the 2020 election cast their votes in person on the Oct. 26 election day, according to the report. In 2016, 73 per cent of those who voted did so on election day and in 2011, it was 83 per cent.

More than 63,000 people — a record number — applied to vote by mail in 2020, the report says.

As well, a record 184,742 votes were cast at advance polls, it says. That was a 66 per cent increase over the 110,716 advance votes cast in 2016.

"[Voters] need more convenience moving forward, and it needs to fit into a very busy schedule. And so as a result, different people need different options," Boda said in an interview with CBC.

Because of the province's geography, it's not always easy for people to get to a physical poll, he said.

"To have that option of being able to vote by mail is certainly a better option for a number of people. So we would like to to investigate that, to look at offering others the option of vote by mail going forward."

According to another Elections Saskatchewan report issued earlier this month, 52.9 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2020. That's down from 53.5 per cent in 2016 and 51.1 per cent in 2011. The percentage was in the upper 70s in elections in the 1980s and early 1990s, the statement of votes report says.

Elections Saskatchewan
Elections Saskatchewan

Boda also said the COVID-19 pandemic, and the possibility that the vote would come in the spring, put some of Elections Saskatchewan's modernization efforts on hold.

"We were planning to introduce new technology into polls," he said.

"We would have had electronic polls and tabulators — so people are not voting on machines, but the tabulation process would have gone forward in that context."

However, Boda said he's proud of how the 2020 election went, adding Saskatchewan could serve as an example to other jurisdictions trying to hold an election during the pandemic.

"It took the people of Saskatchewan — our workers, which number around 11,000," he said.

"People stepped up for this election because they believed that … elections and democracy is important in the province of Saskatchewan."

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