Voters worried about sealed mail-in ballots; Elections B.C. says votes will be counted

Some voters are receiving mail-in ballots with the security envelope already sealed, forcing them to pry or rip open the outer envelope and tape it up with the ballot inside. That’s leaving some worried their vote will not be counted if the ballot appears tampered with.

However, Elections B.C. said they’re aware of the issue and assured voters that their ballot will still be counted.

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“We have heard from voters who received their packages with the envelopes sealed,” said Elections B.C. spokesman Andrew Watson, who did not have figures on how many mail-in ballots arrived this way. He said the issue is caused by moisture or heat during transit and noted the rainy weather could be to blame.

Voters are advised to carefully open the envelopes and tape them shut before sending them back to Elections B.C., Watson said.

“The security features in terms of securing the voter identity don’t depend on the seals in the envelope,” he said.

If a voting package has significant water damage, voters should ask for a replacement.

An 80-year-old voter in Esquimalt said she was concerned when she received her mail-in voting package and found both the certification envelope and the return envelope already sealed. She called Elections B.C. and was told she’s not the only one with that problem. She was told to slit open the envelopes and reseal them with tape.

The voter, who did not want to give her name, said she’s been voting for 60 years and has never experienced problems with a mail-in ballot.

“I wondered if it would hurt the protection that the ballot should have and the second thing: Would they count it?” the woman asked. “That was my thing — I want my vote to count.” She said she felt a bit uneasy about taping the package shut.

“I thought there could be room for fraud, but I’m sure that won’t happen.”

David Black, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University, said more concerning for him than the issue of fraud, is the challenge facing election scrutineers who will have to verify hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots which are sure to have imperfections and inconsistencies.

“People just don’t have experience voting like this before,” Black said. “A certain amount of forgiveness is going to be necessary.”

By before noon on Thursday, approximately 717,000 registered voters had requested vote-by-mail packages, Elections B.C. said, more than 100 times the 6,517 people who voted by mail in the 2017 election. So far, 177,000 of those mail-in ballots have been returned to the elections agency.

Black has previously served as an election scrutineer and said there’s a representative for each party eye-balling every ballot to confirm the voter’s selection was their true intention.

“It’s one of the main disruptions we’re experiencing when trying to do politics in a pandemic,” he said. “How do we deal with mail-in ballots at this scale?”

Elections B.C. has said it could be weeks before voters know the results of the Oct. 24 election as they take the time to verify and count mail-in ballots.

Elections B.C. said anyone who still has not yet sent their mail-in ballot should deliver it in person, either to an electoral district office, polling station or some Service B.C. locations. A list of ballot drop-off locations can be found elections.bc.ca/voting/how-to-vote-by-mail.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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