Home Organizations & Associations Elections BC Voter turnout less in 2020 during pandemic, more use of mail-in ballots

Voter turnout less in 2020 during pandemic, more use of mail-in ballots

Pandemic voter profile: turnout 54.5% (lower than 2017) | Use of mail-in ballots massively higher at 596,287 | More people voted ahead of election day than on that day

Monday November 23, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC

Analysis by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends

The voter turnout in the 2020 Provincial General Election in BC is now updated to being 54.5%, as stated in a news release from Elections BC on November 20.

The previous estimated turnout was 52.4% of registered voters having cast a ballot.

The updated estimate is based on the number of registered voters at the close of general voter registration on September 26, and the number of valid votes and rejected ballots cast at all voting opportunities.

This number may change once again after post-election processing is complete.

Election Day was October 24 but there were also seven advance voting days and the option of mail-in ballots as well as absentee ballots.

In total, 1,900,353 voters cast ballots in the provincial election. That’s the second-highest turnout for a BC provincial election, surpassed only by the May 2017 election (which ultimately brought Premier John Horgan to power in the first place)in which 1,986,374 ballots were cast. That’s 86,032 fewer ballots cast in this year’s snap election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many factors could have produced a lower turnout than three years ago: the pandemic voting conditions, less urgency to clear out the unpopular BC Liberals, a withholding of voter participation so as not to be contributing to vote-splitting, a reaction to the overall ‘noise’ of a snap election, and people not being sure of who to vote for (less access to platform information, given that almost all of it was online and not everyone engages comfortably with that method of truly knowing the candidates).

Meanwhile, there was a new trend set with the popularity of mail-in ballots. That process has been available for several past elections but generally was only used by people with mobility or distance challenges. This time around — due to the pandemic — many people who previously voted in person chose the mail-in option.

Voting opportunityPercentage of total votes cast in 2020Percentage of total votes cast in 2017
Advance voting35.4%30.2%
Voting by mail31.4%0.3%
Absentee voting4.4%8.7%
Voting on Election Day28.8%60.8%

Percentage of votes that were cast at each type of voting opportunity in 2020 compared with 2017. [Elections BC]

In 2017 there were only 6,517 mail-in ballots issued by Elections BC. This time around, a record 724,279 voters requested vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 Provincial General Election. Ultimately, 596,287 voters used those ballots (returning them by the close of voting). That’s a return rate of 82.3%.

This also the first election in BC in which more voters voted ahead of Election Day than on Election Day.

[broken file reposted November 29, 2020]