Voter turnout surges in B.C. referendum, with Island leading the way

Voter turnout continues to rise with one week to go in the mail-in referendum on B.C.’s voting system — and Vancouver Island ridings are leading the way.

The latest numbers from Elections B.C. show that more than 1.2  million ballot packages had been returned by Friday morning.

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That means about 37 per cent of registered voters have mailed in their ballots — double the number of two weeks ago.

The total does not include packages that have been received by Canada Post, but have yet to be turned over to Elections B.C.

Parksville-Qualicum has the highest turnout among provincial ridings so far with 46 per cent of registered voters returning their ballots. Saanich North and the Islands is a close second at 44 per cent, followed by Oak Bay-Gordon Head at 40 per cent.

Elections B.C. must receive the completed ballots by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, and is now encouraging voters to drop off their ballots in person rather than sending them through the mail.

Ballots can be dropped at any Service B.C. or Referendum Service Office. A list of drop-off locations is available on the Elections B.C. website at elections.bc.ca/rso.

In Victoria, there’s a Referendum Service Office at 100-1112 Fort St., open weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In Saanich, there’s a Service B.C. Office at 403-771 Vernon Ave. (Gateway Village), open weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The referendum asks B.C. voters if they support the current first-past-the-post electoral system or if they back a form of proportional representation for the next election, set for 2021.

The voting deadline was extended a week due to rotating postal strikes, and supporters of proportional representation say they’re encouraged by the improving turnout numbers.

“We’ve been plugging along pretty steadily in our efforts to get out the vote,” said Maria Dobrinskaya, a spokeswoman with Vote PR B.C. “And we’re not done yet; we still have a week of ballots coming in and our understanding is that there’s still a fair backlog at Canada Post.”

She said the Yes side is particularly encouraged by the numbers on Vancouver Island. “It’s great to see people so engaged there. We’re excited, but we’re not letting our foot off the gas.”

Bill Tieleman of the No Proportional Representation Society of B.C. said turnout numbers are better than they were, but still have a long way to go. “We’re getting there, but it’s slow progress and we’re getting down to the short strokes, really,” he said.

Tieleman said the turnout has to be above 40 per cent for the vote to have legitimacy.

“If it’s below 40 and it’s a narrow split barely in favour of proportional, then I would suggest there would be problems with accepting those results,” he said.

In the 2011 HST mail-in referendum, the majority of ballots were returned in the last two weeks of voting. The turnout for that referendum was 54.7 per cent.

lkines@timescolonist.com

— With files from Katie DeRosa and The Canadian Press

> More on the referendum and the electoral systems at timescolonist.com/more

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