Ref­er­en­dum re­sults due by Christ­mas

Vot­ing ends on whether B.C. should switch to a pro­por­tional-rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem

Times Colonist - - The Capital And Vancouver Island - KATIE DeROSA

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.”

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