Referendum results due by Christmas
Voting ends on whether B.C. should switch to a proportional-representation system
The polls have closed on the referendum on electoral reform and British Columbians should know before Christmas if the results favour a switch to proportional representation or the status quo.
At the 4:30 p.m. deadline Friday, Elections B.C. officials were at Canada Post’s sorting facility in Richmond to receive any ballots that had yet to be transferred to the election agency, said Elections B.C. spokeswoman Rebecca Penz.
“Canada Post has informed us that they have largely cleared any backlog delays for letter mail within British Columbia, and they committed to ensuring that any visible voter ballot packages throughout B.C. this week are being prioritized for shipment to their Richmond sorting facility,” Penz said.
As of 8:20 a.m. Friday, Elections B.C. had received an estimated 1.35 million packages, which represents a 41 per cent return. The number did not include packages that had been received by Canada Post but not yet transferred to the election agency.
Elections B.C. extended the voting deadline by a week due to rotating strikes by Canada Post unionized employees, which delayed mail delivery.
Penz said the results will be ready “within a few weeks” depending on voter turnout and the speed with which the ballots are processed.
So far, Saanich North and the Islands has the highest turnout among provincial ridings with 52.4 per cent of registered voters submitting their ballots. Parksville-Qualicum is a close second at 51.1 per cent, followed by Oak Bay-Gordon Head at 49.3 per cent.
The referendum asked B.C. voters if they’d prefer to stick with the current first-past-thepost electoral system or if they support a form of proportional representation for the next election, set for 2021.
A poll released Friday by Insights West found that the race is “extremely close” and the results could hinge on last-minute voters.
The poll found that of those who have already voted, 49 per cent said the province should maintain first-past-the-post, while 48 per cent favoured a switch to a proportional representation.
A surge of last-minute voters could sway the race in favour of electoral reform, the poll found, as late voters overwhelmingly prefer a change.
The polling firm found that 52 per cent of early voters were in favour of the status quo, middle voters were split down the middle and late voters were overwhelmingly in favour of a pro-rep system. Those who hadn’t submitted their ballot at the time of the survey, but said they would, were largely in favour of pro-rep.
The poll was conducted through an online survey of 965 British Columbians who qualify to vote.
Volunteers for Vote PR B.C. were working in the final hours on Friday to make sure people dropped off their ballots in time, said the organization’s spokeswoman, Maria Dobrinskaya.
“We really are taking it all the way to the finish line,” she said Friday afternoon.
She said the poll results show that there are voters out there who favour electoral reform.
“So apparently our voters are proscrastinators.”
Dobrinskaya said it’s clear the referendum results will be close, which is why every vote counts.
Bill Tieleman of the No Proportional Representation Society of B.C. said a voter turnout that hovers in the low 40s shows that “this referendum was unnecessary and people were not particularly interested in having a debate about proportional representation.”
He pointed out that the 2011 HST mail-in referendum had a turnout of 54.7 per cent and the two previous referenda on electoral reform in 2005 and 2009 saw voter turnouts of 61 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively.
“People not voting is not an endorsement for proportional representation,” Tieleman said.
In a statement Friday, Attorney General David Eby thanked all British Columbians who turned out to have their say.
“British Columbians from all corners of the province seized this opportunity to participate in this important process, starting earlier this year with the largest public consultation in our province's history and finishing today with the close of voting,” Eby said.
“I want to thank Elections B.C. for its hard work and commitment to running an engaging, fair and impartial referendum. Elections B.C. will now count and tabulate the votes, with results expected in the weeks ahead. No matter the result, this referendum has been a successful exercise of democracy.”