VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — British Columbians wondering what a provincial election will look like amid a pandemic can look to New Brunswick, where voters went to the polls in a snap election just a week ago.
Election day in that province was Sept. 21, but more than half of voters cast their ballots by mail or in advance, and a political scientist says B.C. ought to brace for a similar spike in demand for alternatives to election day voting.
“All told in New Brunswick, 52 per cent of people either voted in advance polls because they were concerned about COVID and social distancing or through mail-in ballot. That’s a huge proportion of individuals overall,” says Dr. Mario Levesque, a professor at Mount Allison University.
“The question is, for Elections BC: Are they ready for that kind of demand?”
Levesque notes the pandemic didn’t decrease turnout, rather it shifted how the electorate engaged with the process.
“Let’s face it, people have concerns around COVID and this pandemic.”
Turnout at advance polls quadrupled, jumping to 36 per cent, he says. Mail-in ballots accounted for 16 per cent of votes cast, where they usually make up between one and three per cent.
Levesque sees the shift away from in-person, election day voting as a positive change.
“I see this perhaps as something that is going to stay going forward, and actually I hope it does stay because for a lot of people it’s just a little bit easier,” he says, adding mail-in ballots offer a more accessible option for seniors in nursing homes, people with mobility issues, and others who don’t want to brave a crowd.
Levesque says campaigning may be very different too. “The major thing that was different is that most of the door-to-door campaigning did not occur. The Progressive Conservative party in particular had no candidates go door-to- door and some of the other parties minimized it.”
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Campaigning by party leaders amid COVID-19 was “much more subdued,” according to Levesque.
While traditional leaders’ debates did go forward, a lot of campaigning shifted online. Door-to-door campaigning was all but abandoned and large events were a no-go.
“It’s more work, it’s different,” he says.