By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter
While hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are expected to vote by mail in the Oct. 24 provincial election, about 60 per cent will probably vote in-person, a process that will be no riskier than getting a takeout coffee, said a top Elections BC official.
“Most voters will likely only spend minutes inside a voting place,” said Anton Boegman, B.C.’s Chief Electoral Officer. “Casting your vote will be like getting a takeout coffee, or picking up milk and eggs from the grocery store in terms of the safety protocols and time spent.”
Voting stations will adhere to all public health guidelines. Voting stations will have physical distancing directions, capacity limits, sanitizer stations, protective barriers, and personal protective equipment for elections officials.
“Voting in person will be different from past elections, but the differences will be familiar to us at this stage,” said Boegman.
An election in a pandemic will be new for British Columbians, but about 185 million people around the world have already cast votes in more than 50 elections so far this year. Of those, 17 took place during the March-April peak of the first wave of the pandemic, according to Elections BC.
In Canada, the people of New Brunswick successfully went to the polls in September.
In the 2017 B.C. election, almost 2 million people, or just over 61 per cent of those who were eligible to vote, did. About 20 per cent voted in advance polls.
In Prince George-Valemount, about 57 per cent of the 34.205 eligible voters made it to the polls in 2017, with the turnout for every age category down compared to the provincial average. The 65-to-74 year olds had the highest turnout percentage-wise in the Prince George-Valemount riding with 73 per cent of people voting, whereas the 25-to-34 year-olds had the lowest turnout with only 41 per cent of those voters checking ballots.
“Elections BC has worked hard to ensure everyone can get to the polls and exercise their right to vote safely,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer.
Public health will be working closely with Elections BC and communities across the province to ensure the election can occur safely, Henry said, urging candidates to pay attention to their own interactions, put safety first, and to encourage people to vote.
If people are feeling sick or are self-isolating, they should contact Elections BC to learn about remote voting options.
Vote by mail
A record number of people are expected to mail in their ballots. Elections BC estimates 40 per cent of British Columbians will vote by mail rather than walking into a polling station. In previous elections, about 1 per cent mailed in ballots.
Based on 2017 voter turnout, if 40 per cent of Prince George-Valemount voters mailed in their ballots, about 11,648 people would vote in-person.
Within 24 hours of the election being announced, Elections BC had received almost 20,000 requests for vote-by-mail packages. As of Sept. 27, 406,000 people had requested a mail-in ballot.
For those who are curious, the Elections BC website is featuring a running total of mail-in ballot packages requested, and updating daily.
Besides mailing their ballots, voters will have all the usual options from previous elections, plus a few more choices. People will be able to vote in-person in advance polls, or vote at a polling station on Election day. There will be more opportunities for people to vote across more voting days and British Columbians will be able to vote at any voting station in the province.
“British Columbia has the most accessible voting model in Canada,” said Boegman. “We send teams of election officials to bring the ballot to remote communities, work camps, and health care facilities.”
Voters must show ID and all mail-in ballots go through a ‘rigorous’ screening process before they are counted.
“Our voting model also has a number of core checks and balances to ensure electoral integrity,” Boegman said.
Whatever method British Columbians choose, Henry encouraged everyone to vote.
For more information on the rules governing the upcoming election, visit elections.bc.ca or call 1-800-661-8683.
Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]