VICTORIA — Officials with Elections BC say they hope to deliver the final results of Saturday's election by Nov. 16, but the date is not set in stone since it's unclear how much extra time it will take to count mail-in ballots.
Vote-by-mail packages are collected centrally and cannot be counted for at least 13 days after the election, allowing time for the ballots to be sent back to voters' ridings for sorting and screening.
Absentee ballots require additional integrity checks and that 13-day period may be extended depending on how quickly electoral staff are able to handle the significant increase in vote-by-mail packages this year, said Anton Boegman, chief electoral officer for Elections BC.
"Usually, 90 per cent of all ballots cast in an election are counted on election night," he told a news conference on Friday. "In this election, it could be between 65 to 70 per cent."
The remaining ballots will be tallied during the final count, said Boegman, adding he hopes it will start on schedule on Nov. 6.
"When we accurately know the volume of vote-by-mail and other absentee ballots to be counted, we'll be able to determine when final count will begin and we'll keep the public informed."
The final count could last three or more days, said Boegman, followed by a six-day window within which judicial recounts could be requested under certain criteria, such as in close races.
Elections BC will hire extra staff at district offices across the province after bringing about 25,000 people on board when voters headed to the polls in 2017, he said.
Close to 478,000 mail-in ballots have been returned to Elections BC so far, representing 66 per cent of all vote-by-mail packages that were requested.
And just over 681,000 people voted in advanced polls, up from 617,175 in the last election.
The last election saw close to two million people cast votes, representing turnout of 62 per cent, while just over 1.1 million people have cast their ballots so far this year, said Boegman.
"Depending upon turnout on voting day, we could have similar numbers as we had in 2017."
People voting in person can expect safety measures including physical distancing, capacity limits, sanitization stations, protective barriers and officials wearing personal protective gear, he said.
There are still ballots in the mail system and Boegman said election staff would be at Canada Post's main distribution centre on Saturday to make sure all of the ballots received by the time polls close at 8 p.m. are collected for screening.
The 2017 election cost $39 million and it's not clear how the price tag will rise this year, he added, though Elections BC had asked for about $6 million to cover pre-election costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.