What to expect when you’re expecting an election result

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October 23, 2020

What to expect when you’re expecting an election result

Written by Danielle Dalzell on October 23, 2020 for our series Earnscliffe BC Election Insights.

Election day in B.C. is upon us. Navigating election day, and beyond, was tricky before the pandemic, and these unprecedented times add complexity to the days and weeks ahead. As B.C. prepares for the big day, here is what to expect when you’re expecting an election result.

Early predictions that John Horgan and the BC NDP will form government have remained largely unchanged since writ drop. Premier Horgan remains popular and polling numbers have been steady, though in the last week we have seen the race tighten, as political races tend to do.

For me, confident election-result speculation is a direct contradiction of various edicts I live by, including but not limited to: polls are snapshots not predictions, never count your votes before they are cast, and the only poll that matters is the election result. Polls should also not be considered in a vacuum. And perhaps worse for democracy, if results are perceived to be foregone conclusions, voters may decide to stay home, or possibly vote for a party or candidate they otherwise wouldn’t have, because they perceive the stakes to be lower.

Perhaps the most fundamental shift in this election is the potential impact of mail-in ballots. Almost 725,000 mail-in ballots have been issued, and as of October 21st, nearly 400,000 ballots had been returned to Elections BC. In order to validate the ballots and ensure no duplicate voting has occurred, Elections BC will wait 13 days after election day to begin counting mail-in ballots. With the total number of registered voters in B.C. coming in at just under 3.5 million, those outstanding ballots could create delays in reporting and ultimately, in declaring a final result.

On top of this, many seats in B.C. have a history of close margins; this province has seen close results in recent elections. Around a dozen ridings are seen as ridings to watch, but even more could be in play, and of course past precedent becomes less of a reliable predictor in an unprecedented election.

Traditional tactics to contact voters and get out the vote have also been drastically changed by Covid-19. Political parties have adapted, but the impact of having a virtual doorstep compared to an actual doorstep is about to be tested for the first time in BC.

Television networks will feel the pressure to a make a call on election night, but parties aren’t obligated to accept any result with hundreds of thousands of votes yet to be counted. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Premier Horgan will return to his duties after election day and government work will continue, but forming a new government or appointing a new cabinet could take weeks. Cabinet predictions fall under another set of personal edicts, but we’ll leave that for another day.