160,000 voters have already asked Elections B.C. for mail-in ballots

More than 160,000 people have asked Elections B.C. for mail-in ballots, a strong indication that the pandemic is changing voting habits.

Voters will head to the polls on Oct. 24 after B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan called the election, saying his minority government needs more stability in order to govern through the COVID-19 heath emergency.

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Less than 24 hours after Horgan asked Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin to dissolve the legislature to trigger the election, 20,000 people had requested mail-in ballots and Elections B.C. announced Thursday afternoon that the number had ballooned to 160,000.

In the 2017 provincial election, 11,268 people requested mail-in ballots and 6,517 mail-in ballots were cast.

Surveys in May and August conducted for Elections B.C. found that 35 to 40 per cent of voters — up to 800,000 people — would prefer to mail in their ballot during a pandemic.

Elections B.C. has warned that a surge in mail-in ballots could mean British Columbians won’t find out who won the election until weeks after voting day. While votes cast on voting day and in advance polls are counted on Oct. 24, absentee ballots — including mail-in ballots — aren’t counted for at least 13 days to allow a “rigorous screening process” to ensure a person only votes once.

New Brunswick’s recent election, which saw a huge demand for mail-in ballots, could offer some lessons for B.C. More than half of all voters in New Brunswick cast their ballots early, with 35 per cent voting during the two days of advance voting and 17 per cent through mail-in ballots, including ballots delivered to residential care homes for seniors.

Typically, fewer than one per cent of voters vote through mail-in ballots.

Eligible voters can register or update their registration to vote, and request a mail-in ballot, by going online to elections.bc.ca or by phoning 1-800-661-8683.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from Cindy E. Harnett

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