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A voter prepares to cast a ballot during the B.C. provincial election in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 24, 2020.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

British Columbia voters who hadn’t already cast a ballot by mail or at an advance poll in the province’s election have their last opportunity to make their choice today before 8 p.m, and Elections BC says many voters are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Still about 1 million ballots, from absentee polling and mail-in ballots, will not be counted today, but rather, under the terms of the Elections Act, starting Nov. 6 at the earliest. That will delay the outcome of the first B.C. election held during a pandemic until mid November. By comparison, about 2 million ballots were cast in the last B.C. election held in 2017.

B.C.’s embrace of mail-in votes likely to delay election results

“From what I have heard, turnout has been steady throughout the morning and I think things have gone well so far,” Andy Watson said, from Victoria, in an interview. “I’ve heard of some places having lines. I haven’t heard of extensive lines anywhere.”

One point to note, he said, is that some ridings have had extensive voting by mail, affecting the number of people who need, today to get out and vote, while other ridings have not. “That may be a factor in terms of the busyness for any individual voting place,” he said.

BC NDP Leader John Horgan called an election last month, a year ahead of the vote scheduled under the province’s elections law. At dissolution, there were 41 NDP members in the 87-seat legislature, 41 Liberals, two Greens, two independents and one seat vacant.

While municipal elections in B.C. are held on Saturdays, today’s provincial election is the first on a Saturday in recent memory, and Mr. Watson said it will be interesting to see what impact that has.

Usually, he said, Elections BC sees heavy turnout in the morning with people voting as or before they go to work, and in the evening as they come home.

NDP Leader John Horgan stops to pet candidate Melanie Mark's dog Max as he greets supporters on election day in Vancouver, Saturday, October 24, 2020.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Mr. Watson noted that Elections BC staff are at the province’s main mail-sorting centre in Richmond, looking for mail-in ballots that may be in the flow of mail, and not yet made it in for consideration. They will be working until 8 pm when voting ends.

Mr. Watson said Elections BC will be counting available ballots today, and reporting their findings, but not calling the election

In Victoria, the polling station in the bustling Cook St. Village was relaxed and orderly, with Elections BC staff paying close attention to pandemic health protocols. Voters were asked if they had a mask if they were not already wearing one, even though masks are encouraged, not required. Voters were offered sterile pencils to mark their ballots if they had not brought their own.

Officials wore plastic face shields, protective barriers were in place at each desk, and the floors were marked with tape to ensure physical distancing measures were maintained – not a difficult task with just a trickle of voters arriving to take advantage of limited traffic of the early morning.

A polling station worker sends B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson to a different ballot box to cast his vote for the provincial election, in Vancouver, on Saturday, October 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckDARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Not far away, at a polling station at Victoria’s Sir James Douglas elementary school, just a few early bird voters arrived for the opening of the polls at 8 a.m. The turnout soon thinned with no wait time later in the morning. Elections BC expanded its polling stations at the school, taking the auditorium as usual as well as an additional, adjacent room, to expand their capacity without crowding.

Anton Boegman, the chief electoral officer, said in a briefing Friday that his organization had worked to come up with a straightforward process for voting during a pandemic. “Voting will be similar to getting a cup of takeout coffee, or buying a few groceries at a grocery store, in terms of the time spent and in terms of the safety protocols you can find.”

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson was alone in a community centre area set up for voting in Vancouver-Quilchena, where he is the incumbent, as he cast his ballot in the morning. Across central Vancouver, a community hall in Vancouver-Fairview was also empty of voters during a visit.

With the campaigning behind them, the parties focused on Saturday on getting out the vote.

“The stakes of this election couldn’t be higher. We’ve accomplished too much together to go back now. Let’s keep BC moving forward, for everyone,” tweeted NDP leader John Horgan, who called the snap election in a bid to trade in his minority government for a majority.

Mr. Horgan spent the day in Vancouver, participating in a Burma shave event with NDP candidates including Brenda Bailey, who is hoping to take the riding of Vancouver-False Creek from the Liberals. Liberal Sam Sullivan won the seat with a margin of just 415 votes in 2017. Otherwise the NDP leader was out of sight, checking in with candidates and friends, and reviewing drafts of the different speeches he may have to deliver on Saturday night.

Mr. Horgan voted in advance polling in his Vancouver Island riding, Langford-Juan de Fuca. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau voted today in her Cowichan Valley riding.

The Liberals meanwhile encouraged their supporters to get to the polls in what they insist is a tight race.

“The last election was decided by ONE SINGLE SEAT and only a few dozen votes,” wrote party official Alexandra Barberis in an email. “This election could be even closer.”

Mr. Wilkinson was scheduled to watch initial reporting of the results, and then hold a news conference later in the evening.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C. public health officer, said she was not aware of any incidents of people being ill, transmission of COVID-19 or any transmission events linked to the election.

“We’ve been keeping in close contact with Elections BC through the last couple of weeks and as far as we can tell things are going really well,” Dr. Henry told a news conference.

“I voted myself at one of the advance polls last week and I was very impressed by the way it has been playing out. It went very smoothly. People were biding their time, wearing masks. The way it was set up met all the criteria that we needed.”

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