What we know about voting in B.C. during the pandemic

British Columbia

What we know about voting in B.C. during the pandemic

What we know so far about the way voting will work during a pandemic, and how you can exercise your democratic right safely.

No, you won't be able to vote online

A teacher arrives at John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver on Sept. 8. Schools have been using as voting places for provincial elections for decades, but it is not clear whether they will be used during the fall election. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ready or not, British Columbians are heading to the polls on Oct. 24.

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election on Monday, just 32 days before voting day.

Here's what we know so far about the way voting will work during a pandemic, and how you can exercise your democratic right safely.

Can I vote online?

No. Elections BC said there are still too many security risks.

“An independent panel on internet voting explored the possibility of internet voting in a B.C. election in 2014, and found that the security risks are too great. Since then the situation hasn't changed: the technology isn't where it needs to be to ensure a secure election,” read the office's website. 

What about by phone?

Voting by phone will only be an option for at-risk voters and those who cannot vote another way. This includes people with disabilities or underlying health conditions as well as those living in a hospital or long-term care facility.

So, will I have to leave my house to line up and vote?

Not if you don't want to. There will be advance voting and the opportunity to vote by mail.

“There will be ample new opportunities through advance voting as well as mail-in ballots to ensure that people can participate in our democratic process from the comfort of their own home,” Horgan said.

WATCH | Horgan explains the decision to call a fall election:

Horgan says the decision was not easy, but delaying the vote risks “instability.” British Columbians will go to the polls on Oct. 24. 1:16

When is advance voting?

The advance voting period runs from Thursday, Oct. 15 to Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Seven days of advance voting is one day more than the six allotted in 2017. According to Elections BC, the additional day gives voters more options and will help reduce crowding at voting sites.

Advance voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time.

How do I get a mail-in ballot?

Voting by mail is a safe option for those who have underlying health conditions and those who do not want to vote in person, according to Elections BC.

Any voter in the province can request a vote-by-mail package from Elections BC online or by calling Voter Services at 1-800-661-8683. The package will be mailed to you or you can pick it up at a district electoral office.

What is the cut-off date for a mail-in ballot?

Your package needs to make it back to a district electoral office before 8 p.m. PT on Oct. 24, or your vote will not count. If you are mailing your package, rather than delivering it to the office in person, do it as early as possible.

I'd rather vote in person on Oct. 24. Will it be safe?

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been working with Elections BC to ensure voting in person can be done safely, and Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman said voters will not have to choose between safeguarding their health and exercising their right to vote. 

Pandemic voting protocols include: 

  • Physical distancing.
  • Capacity limits.
  • Election officials wearing personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields.
  • Protective barriers.
  • Hand sanitizing stations.
  • Frequent cleaning of voting stations and frequently touched surfaces.

Elections BC says voters will be encouraged to wear a mask to help protect others, and will not be asked to remove their masks. Voters will be asked to sanitize their hands before and after marking the ballot.

Other voting practices are also going to be a little different. For example, voters will be asked to make a verbal declaration of their eligibility instead of signing a voting book. They also can bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot.

“Dr. Henry and Elections BC have worked very, very hard to make sure that British Columbians will not be putting themselves at risk. Just as we're going to work, just as we're shopping for groceries, we can vote safely,” said Horgan. 

How will I hear from politicians if they aren't out on the campaign trail?

Candidates are usually accessible to the public and the media over the course of an election campaign, hitting the campaign trail to plug their election platforms and answer accountability questions. Much of the campaigning this year will be done remotely because of the pandemic, but the internet is not always going to reach everybody. Some don't have a secure connection, while others prefer old-school communication.

Horgan said campaigns will comply with public health orders and get “creative” to engage with the public.

“As with all campaigns, leaflets will be available door-to-door, I'm sure, and information about candidates in local constituencies will be available through a variety of platforms, not just the internet. The good news is many seniors have landlines … being able to contact those who are not adept at the internet is going to be the easiest part of the campaign, quite frankly, but it will be different,” he said.

Wait, the election is on a Saturday?

Yes. Under legislation passed in October 2017, provincial elections in B.C. are to be held on the third Saturday in October instead of the second Tuesday in May. At the time, David Eby, then attorney general, said the change was made so January budgets could be debated and passed before an election.

The election on Oct. 24 will be the first election in B.C. held during a state of emergency since the Second World War.

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