Should record-high numbers of voters requesting special ballots use the mail-in option in this federal election, it may well leave Canadians wondering who won when they go to bed, hours after the polls have closed on Sept. 20, if there are a lot of tight races.
“In places where the races are tight, we may not know who won on election night,” Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier told The Epoch Times. “We may not have an outcome.”
With only 10 days to go before the election, polls show the Conservatives and Liberals in what is essentially a dead heat.
Tight election races at the riding level could leave mail-in ballots upsetting the anticipated results at the last minute. Mail-in ballots might only be counted by Sept. 25, five days after the election, says Gauthier.
“Depending on the volume of those special ballots, it could take two to five days to count them … and get all the results,” she says.
Before they can even be counted, mail-in ballots have to be verified by Elections Canada staffers to ensure there is no election fraud. Then, all the mail-in ballots have to be counted by hand. There are no machines to tally them up.
Voters who apply for special ballots have the option of voting either by mail or at any Elections Canada office across the country, instead of at their regular polling station. In the past, such voters typically included those not able to vote from inside their riding, such as students studying away from home or people living or travelling abroad or in another part of Canada.
“In the last federal election, 50,000 voted by mail-in ballot, and that includes 35,000 Canadians who live abroad,” said Gauthier.
The remaining roughly 15,000 who voted by mail-in ballot in the 2019 election were voters living in Canada. In addition, nearly 432,000 Canadians voted at an Elections Canada office, making a total of 481,427 special ballot voters that year.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has made a lot of Canadians much more wary of voting in person. Requests for special ballots are skyrocketing.
On Sept. 10, the federal agency that administers elections reported that 795,606 Canadians had already requested to vote by special ballot, including 674,663 who live in the riding in which they are going to vote.
That total number of special ballot voters this year is some 314,000 more than the number in the 2019 federal election in Canada—and voters still have until Sept. 14 to request the voting kits to cast their ballots through the mail or at an Elections Canada office.
Gauthier says the agency is ready to handle that volume should a large majority of those voters mail in their ballots.
During the third wave of COVID-19, Elections Canada started gearing up for what it then believed could be as many as five million votes coming through the mail. Since then, COVID-19 daily case counts have fallen and vaccination rates have risen, and so the agency has revised its expectations.
“It could be two to three million votes by mail,” says Gauthier. “Every election, there’s always an uptick (in the number of mail-in ballots requested) on the last day.”
While it’s impossible to predict with certainty how many people will cast their ballots on election day, Elections Canada’s figures show about 19 million Canadians voted in the last federal election in 2019.
A similar voter turnout with two million mail-in ballots in this election would mean that more than 10 percent of the vote in this upcoming election would only be counted the days after the polls have closed.
That’s more than enough of a margin to make all the difference between winning and losing in swing ridings.
Although counting the mail-in ballots could take up to five days, every one of those ballots has to be received by Elections Canada before the polls close on Sept. 20.
Voters who get their special ballot ahead of election day but too late to mail them back in time can take their ballot to any Elections Canada office before the polls close, said Gauthier.
Anyone who requests a mail-in ballot and does not get it in time can also simply show up at the polling station and vote in person after taking an oath stating they never received the ballot.