Elections BC administered the 42nd Provincial General Election in British Columbia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our preparations included consulting with the Election Advisory Committee, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafeBC to ensure a safe and accessible voting process.
The challenges presented by COVID-19 necessitated changes to our processes and procedures to align with public health directives and ensure a safe process for all electoral stakeholders, including voters, election workers and political participants.
The Election Act establishes requirements for the electoral process and does not contemplate administering an election during a pandemic. However, s. 280 of the Election Act does provide the Chief Electoral Officer with authority to vary from the requirements of the Act in order to address emergencies and extraordinary circumstances.
Elections BC worked with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafe BC to plan measures designed to meet or exceed public health and worker protection guidance. These measures protected voter and worker safety while maintaining the integrity of the voting process. They also helped to accommodate expected changes in voter behaviour as a result of the pandemic, such as increased use of voting by mail.
We conducted surveys in May and August to assess how voters felt about voting during the pandemic. Approximately 40% of voters said they would prefer to vote by mail. This would be as many as 800,000 voters voting by mail, dramatically more than past elections (typically around 6,500 voters vote by mail in a provincial election in BC), which would have significant procedural and timing consequences.
Section 280 of the Election Act provides the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) with order-making authority to address emergencies, extraordinary circumstances and mistakes.
Out of necessity, and because of the unprecedented circumstances of administering an election during a global pandemic, the Chief Electoral Officer used their order-making powers under s. 280 to modify a number of legislated administrative procedures. The modifications also addressed the expected shift in voter behavior toward the use of vote by mail.
Although this power is not subject to consultation requirements under the Election Act, the CEO elected to discuss these proposed modifications with the Elections Advisory Committee prior to finalizing any Orders.
Order EA-ORD014-2020 was issued on September 26, 2020.
Order EA-ORD029-2020 was issued on October 23, 2020.