Elections BC says it’s been planning for a “pandemic election” since April, and chief electoral officer Anton Boegman says he believes all the necessary precautions are in place.
The planning included a survey of voters in May and August.
Boegman and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry held a briefing about the election plans Sept. 22.
Boegman said for those who choose to vote in person on Oct. 24, the experience will be not unlike running daily errands with COVID precautions in place.
“Casting your vote will be like getting a take-out coffee or picking up milk and eggs from the grocery store in terms of the safety protocols and time spent,” he said.
Boegman said protocols at polling stations will include physical distancing, capacity limits, personal protective equipment (PPE) for election officials, barriers, sanitizing stations and enhanced cleaning.
The voting procedure itself will also be modified to minimize contact.
Mail-in ballots, telephone voting and, in certain circumstances, curbside voting are also part of the Elections BC plan.
Boegman said the voter survey showed between 35 and 40 per cent of voters could choose the mail-in ballot. Around 20,000 voters have already applied.
In a timeline published on its website, Elections BC said preparations for the final vote count, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 6, and the final count itself “may take more time depending on the number of mail-in ballots.”
“It is possible that there will be a delay before the final results are known,” Boegman said during the briefing. “Our commitment again is to make sure that the count is conducted as quickly as possible while maintaining the necessary integrity checks.”
Henry said her office has provided guidance to parties and candidates and the major parties will also be expected to create a specific plan for campaigning safely.
Boegman said any expenses candidates have related to the purchase of PPE for staff and volunteers, “as long as they are not branded,” will be exempt from the $66,000 campaign spending limit.
Another issue Boegman addressed during the briefing was the use of schools as polling places. The BC Teachers’ Federation has raised concerns, but Boegman said schools are an essential part of the election machinery with up to 44 per cent of polling stations in schools in a typical election.
“We are going to limit our use of schools to weekend days,” he said. “These are days when students are not present in the schools [and] when it’s possible to make sure that that the necessary cleaning is done before and after the use of these facilities by voters.”
Three schools were used as polling places in Powell River-Sunshine Coast in the 2017 provincial election: Langdale and West Sechelt elementary schools on the lower Sunshine Coast and Texada Elementary School on the upper Coast.
Boegman also said he didn’t think there would be any problem recruiting the 25,000 or so workers needed to run the election.
He said scheduling voting day for a Saturday should mean a bigger pool of potential workers to draw from and the safety protocols should reduce the likelihood that people won’t apply for the jobs because of COVID concerns.
“We’re also targeting recruitment efforts at youth – we have a ‘youth at the booth’ program that we administered through the schools,” he said.
“While it is something that we’re watching, I believe that the changes we would put in place will enable us to recruit the election officials that we need to administer the election.”
Elections BC is encouraging people interested in mail-in voting to request a package as soon as possible either online at elections.bc.ca/ovr or by phone at 1-800-661-8683.