BC officials lay out plan for safe election during pandemic

Sep 22 2020, 6:38 pm

With British Columbians heading to the polls this October, Elections BC, along with provincial health officials, have laid out their plans and guidelines for a safe election amid the pandemic.

While BC’s next election date was originally scheduled for October 2021, Elections BC said planning for a pandemic election began in April of this year.

As part of this planning, officials said consultation took place with the Office of the
Provincial Health Officer and other election agencies in Canada, and that voter surveys took place in May and August of this year.

Elections BC officials have noted that because of the pandemic, they are expecting a significant increase in the number of mail-in ballots this time around – as high as 35% of the total votes. This is a significant increase from the typical 1% of total votes that mail-in ballots typically represent.

Officials note that to cast a mail-in ballot voters must request one, either by calling 1-800-661-8683, or by visiting the Elections BC website. Completed packages must be received by Elections BC by 8 pm PST on October 24.

In just the first day of the election campaign, Elections BC say they have already received approximately 20,000 requests for vote by mail packages.

Elections BC

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman noted that BC has never held an election during a pandemic before, although elections have taken place during provincial emergencies.

He noted that worldwide, over 150 elections have taken place this year, and over 185 million people have cast a vote in some form or another.

“In any election, accessibility and integrity are key areas of focus for Elections BC,” he said. “In this election, we also have additional, critical responsibilities to provide safe voting opportunities.”

And with “safe voting plans in place,” Boegman said he’s confident that an election, “can be held safely during this pandemic.”

Voting in person, he said, “will be different, but the difference will be familiar to us at this stage.”

At voting stations, voters can expect a variety of safety measures, which include:

  • Physical distancing;
  • Capacity limits;
  • Election officials wearing personal protective equipment (such as masks and face-visors);
  • Protective barriers;
  • Hand sanitizing stations;
  • Frequent cleaning of voting stations and frequently touched surfaces;
  • Election workers trained on safe workplace guidelines and pandemic protocols.

Some familiar voting procedures will be different, as well. For example, voters will show identification without handing it to an election official, and will make a verbal declaration of eligibility to vote instead of signing a voting book. Voters also can bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot.

Voters are also encouraged to wear a mask when they vote to help protect others, and will not be asked to remove their mask to vote.

All told, “most voters will likely only spend minutes inside a voting station,” said Bogeman. “Casting your vote will be like getting a takeout coffee, or getting milk and eggs from the grocery store in terms of the safety protocols, and time spent.”

Speaking at the press conference as well, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that “like many, many aspects of our society, much thought and consideration has gone into ensuring British Columbians can safely vote this fall.”

Henry stressed that pre-planning for safe election protocols “has not been because we were expecting an election, but because we knew COVID-19 would be in our communities for some time to come and we needed to be ready.”

Henry said guidance has been provided for political parties and their candidates to keep them and the communities they’re in safe during the campaign.

“Our main focus is ensuring a safe and accessible voting process during the pandemic,” said Boegman. “We have been working with Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office to develop our safe voting plans and make sure that voters don’t have to choose between safeguarding their health and exercising their right to vote. All voters have the option of voting in person with protective measures in place, or voting by mail.”

Voting in person will be available during the advance voting period from Thursday, October 15 to Wednesday, October 21, and on Election Day, Saturday, October 24.

Advance voting places will be open from 8 am to 8 pm local time. There will be seven days of advance voting, up from six in 2017. The additional advance voting day has been added to give voters more options and help reduce numbers in voting places. The advance voting period includes two weekend days, Saturday, October 17, and Sunday, October 18.

Voting locations will be open on Election Day, Saturday, October 24, from 8 am to 8 pm PT.

Places and dates are being confirmed and will be available on Elections BC’s website as soon as possible. They will also be listed on Where to Vote cards sent to every registered voter in the province before the start of the advance voting period.

Voters should stay home if they are feeling sick or self-isolating and request a vote-by-mail package instead.

Voters can register or update their information online or by calling 1-800-661-8683. Voter registration by phone closes at 8 pm PT on Saturday, September 26. Voter registration online closes at 11:59:59 pm PT on Saturday, September 26.

Eligible voters can still register or update their voter registration when they vote, but it will make the voting process longer for them. Elections BC encourages voters to make sure their information is up to date now so they can vote faster, help reduce lineups at voting locations and support physical distancing.

District electoral offices will be open in every electoral district across the province as soon as possible.

For more information about the provincial election, visit Elections BC online, follow Elections BC on social media, or call 1-800-661-8683.

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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