Elections Nova Scotia encouraging voters to mail ballots, but results may be delayed

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HALIFAX — Voters will be encouraged to mail in their ballots in a provincial election that's expected to be called soon, but that may mean some delays in obtaining results, Elections Nova Scotia said Monday.

The governing Liberals haven't set a date yet, but there is speculation the province's 41st general election could be called within days.

Chief electoral officer Richard Temporale told a news conference Monday Elections Nova Scotia doesn't know when the election will be but it's important for voters to be informed of their voting options.

The independent agency said in a news release Monday it will emphasize the option of voting by mail-in ballot, and said it expects — based on voter behaviour during past pandemic-era provincial elections — there will be high uptake.

Eligible voters can complete an online application for a write-in kit before the provincial general election is called or call Elections Nova Scotia to have an application sent to them, the agency said. Strict COVID-19 protocols will be in place at all voting locations during the general election, with polls opening between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., it added.

All write-in ballot kits must be returned by 8 p.m. on election day to be counted, the agency said in a presentation to reporters Monday.

Naomi Shelton, director of policy and communications at Elections Nova Scotia, said the chief electoral officer can order that early ballots received by the agency be counted before election day. Shelton, however, said the public and media should be prepared for delays in obtaining the election results, depending on the volume of mail-in and early ballots.

The chief electoral officer, she said, "may need to stop the counting of ballots at midnight (election day) and resume at 10 a.m. the next day. This is something we won't know until the vote counting begins, but we want to be up front and communicate the possibility now.

"This is something that would be new to Nova Scotia."

Shelton said there are contingency plans in place in the event there is an outbreak of COVID-19 during the election campaign, as occurred in Newfoundland and Labrador. The plan for a Feb. 13 vote in that province unravelled after a COVID-19 outbreak in the capital, St. John's. Poll workers resigned en masse, health officials put the province in lockdown and the chief electoral officer cancelled in-person voting.

Following several deadline extensions, mail-in ballots were ultimately due on March 25, and results announced March 27 gave the Liberals a thin majority, with 22 of the legislature's 40 seats. At 48 per cent, the Newfoundland and Labrador election had the lowest voter turnout in the province's history, and results in several districts are being contested in court.

"We've been very prudent in our planning to ensure we have infection-control precautions and protocols in place and we've also done emergency-scenario planning for similar situations to what happened in Newfoundland," Shelton said.

"We're feeling very comfortable we can deliver a safe and inclusive election."

At dissolution, the Liberals held 24 of 51 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservatives with 17. The New Democrats had five seats, and there were three Independents and two vacancies. In 2019, the Nova Scotia legislature increased the number of electoral districts to 55 from 51, as recommended by the Electoral Boundaries Commission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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