FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)

FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)

How to vote on or before Sept. 20

Mail-in ballots are expected to be taken up by millions of voters

Northwest B.C. voters can expect one tiny benefit should they choose to vote in person this federal election — a pencil.

As part of Elections Canada’s efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, it will have enough pencils at each polling station so that they are used just once when a voter marks an ‘X’ on the ballot.

The planned single-use pencils are just part of what are now familiar protocols of sanitizing, social distancing and other measures to be undertaken by Elections Canada to safe-guard in-person voting.

Polling station officials will also be distributing masks and Elections Canada is saying that voters who do not wish to wear a mask at a voting place should choose to vote by mail instead. Those with a medical reason for not wearing a mask are exempt from that advice.

And those who do choose to vote by mail are expected to number in the millions compared to the approximately 55,000 people who did so in the October 2019 federal election.

Some experts are predicting the vote by mail option may be taken up by as many as five million people of the potential 27 million people eligible to cast a ballot.

But because this is a relatively short election with the Sept. 2o general voting day already rapidly approaching, those who do want to vote by mail should start as soon as possible, Elections Canada advises.

Voters can either apply to vote online through elections.ca or in person at an Elections Canada office — there are five in this riding in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers and Burns Lake. The deadline to do so is Sept. 14.

“We mail you a voting kit. When you decide on the candidate you want to vote for, write the name of the candidate on your ballot,” states Elections Canada adding the kit it will send out contains a prepaid envelope.

Voters also have the option of delivering the envelope to a voting station.

The one wrinkle in this method is that the ballots won’t contain the names of the candidates in their riding. Voters will have to find out themselves and write the name in. Elections Canada’s website elections.ca will have all the candidates’ names.

How mail-in voting may affect turnout is hard to predict. In the 2020 provincial election, 31.49 per cent of voters chose the vote by mail method compared to 28.8 per cent who turned out on election day, 35.4 per cent who voted at advance polls and 4.4 per cent who voted by absentee ballot or other means.

It made for a voter turnout of 53.9 per cent in 2020 compared to 61.2 per cent in 2017 and 57.1 per cent in 2013.

The voter turnout in the October 2019 federal election in the Skeena – Bulkley Valley riding was 61.87 per cent when 41,700 of 67,400 people turned out to vote.