VANCOUVER -- Elections BC says there have already been around 20,000 requests for vote by mail packages in the province since Monday's snap election call, and it is possible a high volume of mail-in ballots could delay the final results in some cases.

Chief electoral officer Anton Boegman said the number of voters opting for mail-in ballots was expected to be higher in this election due to the pandemic, following surveys conducted by Elections BC showing between 30 to 35 per cent of ballots could be cast by mail. In past votes, that number has been around one per cent.

“If there are a significant amount of absentee ballots, including vote by mail ballots, the preparation time before final count may take longer,” he said. “It is possible that there will be a delay before the final results are known. Our commitment again is to make sure that the count is conducted as quickly as possible.”

Elections BC said screening of mail-in ballots to check eligibility and make sure people have not voted twice cannot take place until a minimum of 13 days after Election Day on Oct. 24. Depending on the volume, the time between voting day and the final count may be extended as a large number of mail-in ballots will take longer to process. It could mean close races could be left hanging in the balance even longer.

Elections BC said there will be an initial ballot count on Election Day, and they are also intending to release updated information about the number of vote by mail packages that day.

New Brunswick held the first provincial election during the pandemic last week, and also saw an increase in mail-in ballots, as well as a surge in advance voting, which was held over two days.

B.C. will have seven days of advance voting, which includes a weekend.

Voters are able to request a mail-in voting package on the Elections BC website or by calling 1-800-661-8683. Packages must be received by 8 p.m. on Oct. 24.

A mail-in ballot can be requested as late as 4 p.m. on Election Day, and packages are also able to be submitted in person at a district electoral office, voting place or certain Service BC locations.

Voting location concerns

There has also been concern from the BC Teachers' Federation about using schools as voting places in the pandemic. During B.C.’s last general election, 44 per cent of all voting locations were in schools.

This time — Elections BC will only use school locations on weekend days, which includes two days of advance voting and election day.

“I recognize that there are concerns, and those are very real concerns,” Boegman said, and added the decision to limit school use to weekend days was made in consultation with the education ministry and the public health officer.

“These are days when students are not present in the schools, when it’s possible make sure that the necessary cleaning is done before and after the use of these facilities.”

People who choose to vote in person either on election day or during advance voting will encounter new but familiar safety protocols at polling stations, including distancing, capacity limits, and hand sanitizing stations.

“Casting your vote (will) be like getting a takeout coffee, or picking up milk and eggs from the grocery store, in terms of the safety protocols and time spent,” Boegman said.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is also encouraging people to vote.

“Much thought and consideration has gone into ensuring British Columbia can safely vote this fall,” Henry said. “Get out there, exercise your important democratic right.”