Despite thousands of mail-in ballots, Elections BC says final count on schedule

·3 min read

VICTORIA — Elections BC is aiming to count more than 660,000 mail-in and absentee ballots by late Sunday in the effort to reach a final count for British Columbia's recent provincial election, but it may miss that target.

Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said Friday the count has started and officials are still planning for a Sunday completion.

"The counting process is a bit more involved and that's why we have the three-day period we're hoping to be able to complete the count in," he said. "But with the volume we're dealing with, it could be longer than that."

Last month's B.C. election results gave the NDP 53 seats, the B.C. Liberals 27 and the Greens three — leaving four ridings undecided.

The four undecided ridings are: Abbotsford-Mission, Chilliwack-Kent, Richmond-South Centre and Vernon-Monashee.

While all the votes hadn't been counted Friday evening, the NDP's Pam Alexis had jumped ahead of the Liberal incumbent Simon Gibson in Abbotsford-Mission by about 550 votes.

Gibson had been leading the race on election night.  

Liberal incumbent Eric Foster started Friday with a lead of almost 200 votes over New Democrat Harwinder Sadhu, but he now trails the newcomer by 50 votes in Vernon-Monashee. 

New Democrats Kelli Paddon in Chilliwack-Kent and Henry Yao in Richmond-South Centre continue to hold the slim leads they did on election night. 

Paddon was maintaining a less than 125 vote lead Friday over incumbent Laurie Throness, who started the campaign as a Liberal candidate but quit to run as an independent after causing an uproar comparing free contraception programs to eugenics at an all-candidates meeting.

His resignation came too late for the Liberals to replace the two-term member of the legislature, whose name appeared on the ballot as a Liberal.

The ballot counts in a small number of ridings had been completed and the results remain unchanged.

Elections BC says in a statement it received about 662,000 certification envelopes containing absentee or mail-in ballots from across the province.

Watson said counting these ballots is more involved than on election night.

"One election night you have your team with their ballot box and all the ballots are in the box and they dump it on the table and count them," he said. "In this case, the absentee or mail-in ballots are actually in what's called a certification envelope that has the voter information on it and in that is a secrecy envelope and in the secrecy envelope is the ballot."

Elections BC says the total number of eligible mail-in and absentee ballots cast in the provincial election will be known once the final count ends. 

In 2017, there were about 6,500 mail-in ballots.

"Obviously, there's been a lot more mail-in ballots this election than we've had in the past but voting by mail has been an option in B.C. provincial elections since the early 1990s," said Watson.

B.C. has also had experience with mail-in ballots in provincial referendums, including the harmonized sales tax and electoral reform, he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press