Elections NL says results of delayed vote expected Saturday

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's elections authority says it will have results of the chaotic and delayed provincial vote on Saturday — more than two months since the campaign began.

Spokeswoman Adrienne Luther said Tuesday her office will publicly release the results at noon on Saturday.

Liberal Leader and incumbent Premier Andrew Furey called the election on Jan. 15, when health officials reported one new case of COVID-19, continuing a trend of single-digit daily cases that had persisted since late spring 2020. Furey had set the election for Feb. 13.

But in early February, a COVID-19 outbreak began to spread through the St. John's metro area, causing case numbers to spike. On Feb. 11, chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk called off in-person voting for 18 of the province's 40 districts, after workers resigned en masse from polling offices.

On Feb. 12, health officials called a last-minute news conference and put the province under lockdown. Chaulk announced all in-person voting was cancelled and said ballots would instead be cast only by mail.

Those ballots must be returned to Elections NL by Thursday, following multiple deadline extensions.

Meanwhile, legal experts have said election results could wind up in court. Candidates and community groups have expressed concerns that the mail-in-ballot format excluded voters without internet connections or home phones, with which to request a voting kit.

In the past two weeks, the NDP and Progressive Conservatives sent letters to Elections NL saying slow mail service will make it tough for voters in remote Labrador communities to return ballots by March 25, urging the office to count ballots postmarked by that date instead.

With a 70-day campaign, the election will be of the longest in modern Canadian history, just shy of the 78-day federal election in 2015. Voter turnout in the federal election went up that year, but according to Election NL's ballot request estimates, voter turnout in Newfoundland and Labrador's election is not expected to hit 50 per cent, which would mark a historic low for the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press