In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

In this photo illustration, a provincial election mail-in ballot sealed in an Elections B.C. return envelope is seen before being deposited in a Canada Post mailbox, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The final result of British Columbia’s provincial election won’t be known for at least two weeks because more than 700-thousand mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s snap election means 700k ballots will be counted manually, delaying results

Elections BC spokesman said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one

British Columbia residents won’t learn the results of next Saturday’s snap election for at least two weeks after polls close thanks to the need to count hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots by hand.

Officials with Elections BC said more than 700,000 votes have been cast by mail-in ballot, which must be tabulated manually due the timing of the Oct. 24 election. The results that would generally be available hours after the polls close, they added, will be postponed for weeks while the votes are counted.

The setup may have been different had the election taken place a year from now as scheduled, but NDP Leader John Horgan announced the surprise campaign, citing the need for political stability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislative changes recommended by the province’s chief electoral officer and passed in 2019 are expected to kick in next year, allowing a large number of ballots to be processed quickly and centrally by “tabulators,” which have been used in provincial referendums.

Instead, Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said employees in 87 electoral districts will count mail-in ballots one by one. Current legislation means the counting can’t start until 13 days after the election, he added.

“Those time periods could take longer, given the really unprecedented and historic volume of mail-in ballots,” Watson said.

Extra time is needed to ensure ballots mailed to Elections BC from anywhere in the province can be shipped for counting to district offices where voters live, he said.

Each ballot must be screened to ensure the person was registered and eligible to vote and has not voted more than once. Two more days will be needed to count the ballots, Watson said.

He said the province with 3.4 million registered voters has received more than 700,000 requests for mail-in ballots as of early this weekend, compared to roughly 6,500 such requests during the 2017 campaign.

Next year’s legislative changes will also include a modernized network that would record ballots cast at polling stations in real time. Names will no longer be crossed off a paper list, and the information will be immediately accessible to Elections BC, Watson said.

“It would have been in place for 2021, but not now,” he said. “That will be a focus for us after the election.”

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals pledge $750M to build or buy more social housing

Watson said the system being adopted in B.C., is already available to some degree in at least two provinces, including Ontario and New Brunswick.

“Ballots would be fed into the tabulators throughout the day and then at the end of the night it would just be a matter of calculating the results and reporting them to the head office based on what the tabulated report reads,” he said, adding the same technology would be used for absentee and mail-in ballots.

As for British Columbia’s election on Saturday, Watson said Elections BC will hire more staff to count mail-in ballots in districts where a high number of residents requested them.

In Saskatchewan, where election day is Oct. 26, nearly 63,000 vote-by mail applications were received as of last Thursday, Elections Saskatchewan said of the province with 817,000 registered voters.

The ballots will be counted at the election administrator’s office in Regina rather than the province’s 61 returning districts, starting two days after the election. But the final result of the vote will not be known until Nov. 7.

READ MORE: Horgan on delayed tourism, small business aid: ‘It’s happening now, dude’

There were no such snags when New Brunswick residents went to the polls last month.

Paul Harpell, a spokesman for Elections New Brunswick, said about 13,000 residents among 547,000 registered voters had asked for mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14 election in the province where 100 people typically vote by mail.

Harpell said tabulators processed the ballots the day before the election, and more ballots, including those brought in by voters by 8 p.m. on election day, were handled by the machines by 11 p.m. that evening, a couple of hours after the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected.

But he described the situation as less than ideal, noting the ballots were processed in 49 returning districts with the help of harried staff handling an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots.

“I still think we want to centralize it because we know that the returning districts weren’t built to handle that degree of mail,” Harpell said, adding that will be especially important if the pandemic-related push to cast ballots by mail will prompt more people to vote the same way in future elections.

“I wish B.C. good luck because that’s a phenomenal amount of mail, 700,000 ballots. That’s insane.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Proposed homeless shelter; In response to Keystone cancellation; Progressives

Moir Park in Cranbrook. Photo courtesy Google.
Local organizations partnering for trail project around Moir Park

A partnership of local organizations is hoping to build a community trail… Continue reading

Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

Millie the cat showed up at the East Kootenay SPCA branch seemingly on her own accord. She now needs $2000 worth of treatment. (BC SPCA file)
East Kootenay SPCA raising funds for senior cat found outside branch

SPCA hopes to raise $2,000 for surgery, medication and care of Millie the cat

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims lives of two more South Okanagan care home residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

Keygan Power with brother Quintin and mom Allison while camping the weekend before Keygan’s brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2, 2020. (Photo Allison Power)
B.C. teen ‘locked inside,’ battling to regain speech after severe brain bleed

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Most Read