Message from the Chief Electoral Officer
Since I became British Columbia’s Chief Electoral Officer in 2011, my office has administered six provincial by-elections, three initiative petitions, two recall petitions, one plebiscite, two provincial general elections, and the campaign financing and advertising rules for a general local election, 75 local by-elections and 38 assent voting opportunities. Each type of event, and each individual event, comes with its own challenges, unique circumstances, and surprising moments. On each occasion, my office has risen to the challenge and delivered the high level of service that our stakeholders anticipate and expect.
Of course, the busiest time for any electoral management body is during a general election, and Elections BC is no exception. From a staff of around 55 permanent employees in Victoria, we grow to more than 24,000 across the province. Hundreds of enumerators hit the streets, as district electoral officers (DEOs) open offices in every electoral district and hire thousands of office staff and election officials. Voting places are secured and supplies are delivered. Candidates are nominated and ballots are printed. Where to Vote cards are mailed, the public awareness campaign kicks off, and voting begins.
All this doesn’t happen overnight. No sooner do we close the book on one general election than we start planning the next. By the time the campaign signs go up, Elections BC is entering the final leg of a years-long process of preparation and planning. From new electoral boundaries to digital geography products, legislative change to new administrative processes, a successfully delivered general election is the result of hundreds of pieces and thousands of hours of work coming together.
In 2017, there were more pieces than usual. In light of legislative changes enacted in 2015, and recognizing the administrative need and public expectation for modernization of the voting process, new technology and methods were incorporated into the administration of the 2017 Provincial General Election. For the first time, technology was deployed to voting places in a provincial general election in B.C. Tablets, laptops and smart phones were used by field staff and election officials; a new online voter-centric application for finding a voting place was developed; updated voting materials were created to facilitate an accessible voting experience; and a public awareness strategy that recognized the increased importance of social media and other online sources of information was established.
Innovative technological tools facilitated our commitment to accessibility. Elections BC administers more voting opportunities than any other jurisdiction in Canada. Voters can vote in any district electoral office, at special voting opportunities in care facilities or on campus, by mail, or at any advance or general voting place. For the first time, Elections BC administered election official-assisted telephone voting to more than 1,000 voters with disabilities who may otherwise have been unable to cast their ballot. Using new voter look-up technology, election officials were able to administer voting opportunities quickly, efficiently and accurately, providing a high level of service to B.C. voters.
Elections BC also developed a comprehensive outreach and engagement strategy targeting all eligible voters and individuals with identified barriers to electoral participation, such as youth, post-secondary students, Aboriginal people, new Canadians, people with disabilities and homeless people. Working with the unique needs of these groups enabled us to improve the accessibility of the voting process for all British Columbians.
Preparation and planning ensures that we are ready for the significant challenges that can arise during the election period. Several areas of the province were affected by flooding shortly before General Voting Day. As part of our proactive approach to risk management, the possibility of natural disaster was identified ahead of time, and contingency plans were quickly put into place to ensure voters in these areas were not prevented from casting their ballot.
For many, this election will stand out as historically significant. Certainly, the results were very close. After initial count, conducted when polls close on election night, the question of which party (or parties) could ultimately form government hung on a difference of a few votes between two candidates in one electoral district. No party led in a majority of districts. The close results on election night meant all eyes were on the work of Elections BC for the two weeks between election night and the announcement of final results following final count. Recounts were held in two electoral districts, under heavy scrutiny from the media, political parties and the public. After all the votes were counted, just two seats separated the top two parties, resulting in B.C.’s first minority government in more than 60 years.
Elections BC is looking at a busy schedule of events in the period ahead. A provincial by-election has recently been held in Kelowna West. General local elections are scheduled for the fall of 2018. Legislation to conduct a referendum on electoral reform by November 2018 and to change campaign finance rules for provincial and local elections has recently been passed. The election of a minority government in 2017 means my office must now maintain an ongoing state of readiness for a provincial general election, while also delivering other scheduled and on-demand events. We are developing plans and assessing our resource needs to ensure we continue to provide a high level of service to our stakeholders.
Our commitment to innovation, accessibility, engagement and risk management, and to incorporate lessons learned from the 2017 Provincial General Election will continue to guide our work as we prepare for the busy months and years to come.
Keith Archer, Ph.D.
Chief Electoral Officer