Proposed amendments to the Election Act will pave the way for the use of modern technology to make voting in provincial elections faster and easier, encourage young people to vote and introduce other improvements to the electoral process.
The proposed changes to voting administration rules are the most significant in nearly 25 years. They would give Elections BC the ability to take advantage of new technology, such as vote-counting equipment to tabulate paper ballots, electronic voting books to more quickly record who has cast their ballot and ballot printers to provide flexibility for people voting outside their electoral district.
Other proposed changes are aimed at increasing voter participation. The chief electoral officer will have the ability to maintain a list of future voters for youth aged 16 and 17 years, so they will be already registered when they reach the voting age of 18. To ensure the general voters’ list is accurate and up to date, Elections BC will have better access to name, address and birthdate information held by the Province. This will supplement drivers’ licence data, which has been in use for two decades.
Amendments would also allow Elections BC to extend the campaign period for unexpected elections outside the fixed date election calendar by up to 10 days to allow election officials and candidates to better prepare for a vote. The current 28-day period is one of the shortest in Canada and can lead to higher administrative and campaign costs for elections that were not anticipated by Elections BC.
The proposed amendments would implement most of the recommendations in the chief electoral officer’s report to the legislative assembly in May 2018 for changes to the Election Act, including all four priority recommendations.
Highlights of changes to Election Act
The last major update to the voting administration rules in the Election Act was in 1995. Since then, British Columbia’s population has increased by about 1.2 million, technology has improved and voters expect greater flexibility in how and where they vote. The proposed changes to election legislation implement the recommendations from the chief electoral officer (CEO) to the legislative assembly in May 2018.
Enabling new voting technologies and modernizing the voting process
Proposed amendments would allow use of new technologies, including:
- Electronic voting books to speed up voter check-in and more efficiently record who has cast their ballot.
Lineups at polling places would be reduced because voters would be served by the first available election official instead of going to an assigned table.
- Vote-counting machines to count paper ballots faster and more accurately.
These machines are already in use in B.C.’s local elections and in provincial elections elsewhere in Canada. They would be connected to a secure network after voting is complete and are capable of printing results in each voting place for quality assurance. These are not “voting machines” that individuals use to register their votes. Paper ballots will continue to be used. All other forms of voting, including internet voting, will remain prohibited.
- Ballot printers to print custom ballots for people who are voting outside their assigned voting place.
The custom ballots would have the appropriate candidate names for the voter’s electoral district, eliminating write-in ballots. Vote-counting machines and electronic voting books would allow these custom ballots to be counted on election night.
Depending on connectivity, rural and remote regions would continue to use existing voting procedures.
Facilitating youth participation
Amendments would enable youth aged 16 and 17 to apply to be included on a list of future voters. Their names would be transferred to the voters’ list when they turn 18. At a time of declining voter participation rates, this step is aimed at helping young people be ready to vote at age 18.
Improving the accuracy of the voters’ list
Proposed changes would give the CEO greater access to certain data held by the Ministry of Citizens’ Services for the purpose of updating the voters’ list, in the same way the CEO can now access drivers’ licence and B.C. identification records. The information would be limited to that needed to ensure voters’ registrations are accurate and current, such as name, address and date of birth. This amendment would not be brought into force until the Ministry of Citizens’ Services and the CEO, in consultation with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, develop an information-sharing agreement with details of how information would be shared and kept secure.
This amendment would improve the CEO’s ability to conduct an election outside B.C.’s fixed-date schedule of elections by permitting an extension of the campaign period by between four to 10 days, as needed to maintain Saturday as the final voting day. When an unexpected election is called, the extra time would allow Elections BC to secure electoral offices and voting places, hire and train staff and print ballots, as well as provide information and support to the public and candidates. It is expected to reduce short-notice administrative costs and avoid Elections BC needing to constantly maintain a high state of election readiness. The longer writ period would not apply to scheduled general elections.
“Final” voting day is the replacement term for “general” voting day to reflect the advance poll options for voters. Saturdays are expected to attract higher voter turnout, and there is less disruption for schools used as voting places.