VICTORIA — Elections B.C. says it is confident the province’s mail-in referendum on proportional representation is secure from fraud, despite early low voter turnout and reports of numerous unopened ballots tossed into trash bins.
The independent elections agency said it has several measures in place to protect mail-in ballots that are thrown away or left out where others can grab them. The most important is the “shared secret” date of birth of each voter, which a person is required to fill out when marking their ballot. If that date is missing or incorrect, Elections B.C. won’t count the vote.
“We have systems in place to protect ballots,” said Rebecca Penz, communications director for Elections B.C.
“Each voting package is personalized and voters have to sign a formal declaration stating they are the named voter on the package and have not voted previously, as well as providing their ‘shared secret,’ date of birth, in order to vote. Any incomplete voting packages or ones that do not pass screening will be set aside and not considered for counting.”
There are also other, confidential, ways Elections B.C. can “detect multiple requests for voting packages from the same voter” and the agency can also void a ballot if a voter tells them they didn’t receive it or it was stolen, said Penz.
“We also monitor voting package requests for suspicious patterns,” she said.
But the Opposition Liberals have raised alarm bells about photos on social media that show several instances of unopened ballots thrown into communal recycling bins at apartment buildings.
“All of us have a concern about possible fraud when we see ballots being tossed into recycling bins,” said Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson.
“We’re all concerned that the fundamentals of our democracy could be changed by this referendum. And it’s really unfortunate the NDP have decided to keep the profile fairly low and made the question so complicated that people are throwing their ballots in the garbage.”
Further adding to concern is early reports of low voter turnout. Elections B.C. figures updated Tuesday show only one per cent of registered voters have returned their ballots, or roughly 33,463 ballot packages from almost 3.3 million total voters. The deadline to have ballots back to Elections B.C. is Nov. 30.
“The lower voter turnout at this point suggests people are having trouble completing the ballot because they find it confusing,” said Wilkinson. “We are hearing this from all over British Columbia.”
The NDP government did not set a minimum voter turnout threshold for the referendum results to be valid. Attorney-General David Eby said Tuesday he is not yet concerned, and that the daily Elections B.C. numbers can be deceiving because many more ballots are likely in the mail, and receipt times could also have been impacted by the Canada Post’s employee rotating job action.
“Many people just received their ballots Friday and wouldn’t even have had time to put them back in the post and had them received by Elections B.C. today,” said Eby. “I know for myself I haven’t sent in my own ballot yet.”
The ballot packages also require a signature from voters. However, Elections B.C. hasn’t maintained a database to verify signatures since after the Election Act was changed in 2004 to remove the requirement that voters sign their registration.
Elections B.C. is running the same “corrections process” it used in previous mail-in referenda, which sends letters back to voters who mailed in incomplete ballots and gives them a chance to fix mistakes so the ballot can be counted.
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