VICTORIA — B.C.’s political parties are switching gears in the last week of the election campaign to focus on helping supporters cast their ballots amid the numerous uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The B.C. Greens, Liberals and NDP joined Elections B.C. on Monday to urge voters who have not already mailed their mail-in ballots to instead physically deliver them to a polling station, or destroy them and vote in-person.
That’s because there’s no guarantee a ballot mailed now would reach Elections B.C. by the cutoff of Oct. 24 at 8 p.m.
Any packages that arrive after that time won’t be counted, regardless of when they were originally mailed and postmarked. The recommended cut-off to mail a ballot was Oct. 17.
“This week we’re recommending voters return it in-person to make sure we receive it by the deadline,” said Andrew Watson, Elections B.C. spokesperson.
It’s just one of several unusual wrinkles in the methods and timelines of a pandemic election. Still, the parties say the goal remains the same as in previous elections — get known supporters to the polls early, so they can focus remaining time on enticing key undecided voters.
“It’s probably the major focus of our campaign now,” said Emile Scheffel, B.C. Liberal campaign manager.
“We’re pretty concerned with the level of challenges that voters are encountering as they try and participate in the process. A big part of what we’re having to do is educating the voters.”
The Liberals, Greens and NDP have been sending out automated text messages, boosting social media advertising, conducting limited door-knocking and ramping up old-fashioned direct phone calls to supporters, to encourage them to cast a ballot early during an advanced voting date.
The Liberals have also deployed robocalls and the NDP have mailed out dedicated election reminders.
“It’s all GOTV (get out the vote) all the time for sure this week,” said Heather Stoutenburg, the NDP’s acting provincial director.
“One of our big tools are door hangers,” she added, describing campaign literature that outlines voting day locations hung on the doorknobs of homes. “We’ll still be out there the night before leaving door hangers just like we did in the before-times.”
Almost 725,000 of B.C.’s 3.5 million registered voters have requested mail-in packages, but so far Elections B.C. has received only approximately 235,800 back. Meanwhile, more than 383,477 people have voted during the first four days of advanced voting, from Oct. 15-18. Advanced voting continues until Wednesday.
The worry is that people who mailed their ballots too late might not have their vote counted at all, or conversely could panic and try to vote a second time in person. Voting twice is an offence under the B.C. Election Act that carries potential fines up to $20,000, jail time up to two years and a ban on voting for up to seven years.
“I’m very concerned about how many people are going to fill out their ballots, even as of this weekend, and put it in the mail and it’s not going to show up on time — and they won’t know,” said Evan Pivnick, a senior advisor on the B.C. Green campaign.
“That’s a legitimate concern, and all of our communications have shifted to do not mail your ballot drop it off or go in person.”
Voter turnout in the 2017 election was 57.7 per cent of eligible voters, or almost two million people. None of the parties said they’re sure whether turnout will be higher or lower during this pandemic election. But Pivnick said lower turnout would likely benefit the incumbent government, in this case the NDP.
Scheffel said Elections B.C. is doing its best to provide clarity and accurate information during a snap election, with limited time, but there remain outstanding concerns about voting inside some seniors’ homes, translators for voters who have English as a second language, voting locations on First Nations reserves, advice from Canada Post that voters should still mail ballots, and slow return of data on who has already voted that makes it difficult for parties to strike out supporters from their lists.
“Elections B.C. is doing a great job under challenging circumstances,” added Scheffel. “But the hasty preparation has created challenges for people.”