More than 20,000 British Columbians have already requested mail-in ballots for the upcoming provincial election, just one day after it was called, according to Elections BC.
CEO Anton Boegman told a news conference on Tuesday that the unprecedented surge because of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted officials to expect 35 to 40 per cent of all ballots on Oct. 24 to be cast by mail.
Compare that to the 6,500 requests for mail-in ballots made during the entire campaign in 2017.
“In any election, accessibility and integrity are key principals for Elections BC,” Boegman said. “In this election, we have the critical responsibility to offer safe opportunities.”
The independent agency has been working with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, he said.
Mail-in ballots can be requested from Elections BC by phone or online. They must be received by Saturday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m.
There will be seven days of advance voting, up from six days in 2017.
Voters who live in long-term care homes and acute care hospitals where there is an outbreak will be able to cast a ballot over the phone. (Telephone voting was put in place before the 2017 election.)
Those self-isolating due to COVID-19 will also be encouraged to vote by phone.
“This is a unique opportunity for those who can’t vote independently or unique circumstances that rise out of the pandemic,” Boegman said.
Officials will ask to use schools as polling stations on election day, as well as on Oct. 17 and 18, but will not use them when students are also on site.
Schools made up 44 per cent of polling stations in 2017.
There will also be extra safety precautions in place at polling stations to protect elections staff, volunteers and voters.
Elections BC will supply masks and will use identifying techniques other than asking voters to remove their masks to compare them to their photo IDs.
The public will also be asked to sanitize their hands before and after voting, and will be allowed to bring their own pen or pencil.
Mail-in ballots will be counted two weeks after election day, meaning some races could be too close to call on Oct. 24.
“Our commitment is to make sure the count is conducted as quickly as possible and all the checks are done,” Boegman said.