Saanich byelection early voting starts today, but not by mail

High costs, low turnout not enough to justify mail-in ballots

Ralph Smith is a 92-year-old Royal Marine.

He’s been on Arrow Road since 1975 and has paid close attention to Saanich’s municipal election scene. He’d dearly like to vote in Saanich’s byelection for the vacant councillor seat on Sept. 23, but he hasn’t been to a voter’s booth since his mobility took a hit in 2005.

So he was hoping that, like the federal election he regularly votes in by mail, Saanich would include a mail-in ballot too.

“I can go about 20 or 30 feet with a walker but I can’t go long distances, getting to a polling station for me and my wife is more than a bit of an effort,” said Smith, adding he’s left the house about 12 times since 2005.

Unfortunately for Smith, due to the costs of including mail-in ballots for a byelection, coupled with the time limits and historically low voter turnout for byelections (Saanich included), Chief Election Officer Angila Bains (who is also the new Manager of Legislative Services) has opted to exclude them.

“In 2014, our general local election drew 34. 7 per cent of eligible voters,” Bains said. “And [Saanich’s] last general local election drew 137 mail-in ballots [in 2014], that’s .16 per cent.”

The challenge in a byelection is the short turnaround. Staff don’t know who is on the ballot until Aug. 18, then have to wait two to three weeks to get the physical ballots in house. To then mail them out to those who’ve requested them and then process them once they return is a costly amount of resources, Bains said.

However, mail-in ballots will be available for the general 2018 municipal election, said Bains, who’s new to Saanich but has worked as a chief and deputy chief election officer multiple times since 2004 with the District of North Vancouver and Corporation of Delta.

For Smith, the worry is that in Saanich’s historically close elections (the eighth council seat was won by 30 votes in 2014), cutting out the mail-in only ballots is cutting out a specific niche of voters.

“If you rub out all the voters with a mobility issue, you rub out a like-minded group of individuals,” he said.

Advanced voting continues Monday, Sept. 18, at Saanich Municipal Hall, 770 Vernon Ave., from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Curb-side voting is offered to those who arrive but have limited mobility.

Voting day is Saturday, Sept. 23, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cedar Hill Rec., Gordon Head Rec. Pearkes Rec. and Saanich Common wealth Place.

reporter@saanichnews.com