British Columbians will put their social distancing skills to the test when the province heads to the polls next month.
John Horgan asked Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin to dissolve his minority government on Monday, setting the stage for an Oct. 24 provincial election.
Horgan has needed the support of the Green Party to prop up his NDP minority government that was elected in May 2017. The next provincial election had been scheduled for October 2021, but Horgan decided to take advantage of his government’s surging popularity a year early.
At a news conference in his home community of Langford Sept. 21, Horgan said he has “struggled mightily” with the decision to call an early vote, but the long duration of the pandemic requires stability. That stability is eroded three and a half years into his term with former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver sitting as an independent and preparing to retire, he said.
“I believe the best way forward is to put the politics behind us,” Horgan said, adding that sticking to the legislated election schedule would be “time well wasted.”
Opposition parties had demanded Horgan not call the election in the midst of a pandemic, as B.C.’s COVID-19 cases increase to the point where the province has the highest per-capita number of active cases in Canada.
The precautions brought in as a result of the pandemic are sure to present challenges to elections officials. The prospect of a huge increase in the number of mail-in ballots could complicate matters further and potentially delay results on the outcome.
More than 20,000 people had requested to vote by mail just one day after the writ was dropped for the 2020 B.C. election, according to Elections BC statistics from Sept. 22.
According to Elections BC, the agency can process up to 200,000 mail-in ballots in time for the final count, which is legislated to begin no less than 13 days after Election Day. However, this year Elections BC believes that up to 35 per cent of voters, or around 800,000 people, could opt to mail in their ballot. The final count is due to begin on Nov. 6, with writs of election scheduled to be returned on Nov. 16, although Elections BC said that could take longer if counting is delayed.
That’s up from a typical one per cent, making for a stronger possibility that mail-in ballots can shift the results. In 2017, 61.2 per cent, or nearly two million people, voted in the provincial election. Of those people, about 6,500 people mailed in their ballots.
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