Conversations That Matter: Food integrity in Canada

Canada has unparalleled food security, yet the public is often unsure of that
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B.C. won't know the results of Saturday's provincial election for at least three weeks. Here's why
British Columbia will have a general election on Saturday but because of a massive increase in mail-in voting, the results will not be known for at least three weeks — November 16 at the earliest. Even then it might not be certain. With the sense of time inflation that has become familiar during the pandemic, that is going to feel like six months for British Columbians. In that time, the entire United States will also vote, and although there is concern about the legitimacy and security of the process, not to mention countless possibilities for litigation as in the 2000 Bush-Gore election, everyone reasonably expects to know the basic numerical results before the sun comes up on November 4. Not so in Canada, where Saskatchewan is in a similar position to B.C. for its election on Monday, but might also learn its new representatives before B.C. does. The National Post sketches the mechanics of Canada’s slowest vote, ever. Q: News outlets always race each other to “call” elections on election night. Why won’t they do that this time in British Columbia? A: For all the hoopla of the decision desk, that is never more than an educated guess, as by law, the official results in most jurisdictions, certainly provinces, are not really known for several days, until the formal final vote. Usually that does not matter because the preliminary count is a good guess, and the uncertainty from uncounted mail-in ballots is comparatively small. That is the old way. Q: What is the new way?  A: It is much slower. There was great uncertainty when B.C.’s snap election was called last month. In-person voting will be carried out as usual with pandemic precautions. But the use of mail-in ballots “has far exceeded, I guess, our wildest dreams,” according to Charles Porter, a deputy chief elections officer with Elections BC. More than 725,000 vote by mail packages were shipped, a little less than half of which have already been returned. The scale of of mail-in ballots is “historic and unprecedented” in B.C.’s history, Porter said, and will delay the results. Compared to B.C.’s last election, mail-in voting is up more than 7000%. Q: So why don’t they just start counting ballots as soon as they arrive? A: The trouble is they have to be manually inspected, with scrutineers, in a process that cannot begin until polling has closed. They must be cross-checked against voting records to ensure the same person has not voted more than once. And some ballots involve write-in candidates, who were not yet on the final ballot, which cannot be read by machine. “As soon as we can say with confidence when final count can begin, we will let the public know,” Porter said. .C. Liberals accuse NDP of voter suppression, blame Horgan's 'selfish ambition' for election 'Unprecedented times': Premier John Horgan announces B.C. will hold provincial election on Oct. 24 Q: Will they know anything on election night? A: A little bit. The counting process is the same. The difference is in what is being counted, and how. On election night, Elections BC expects to be able to announce tallies of all advance voting and all general voting. They will also know results from absentee ballots cast during other voting opportunities, such as voting outside districts, or votes collected by mobile teams at remote communities, hospitals, long term care homes, that sort of thing. Q: Sounds like a lot. Why won’t that be enough? A: Normally, that would be enough to know the gist of the outcome, because it would represent about 90 per cent of the ballots cast, said B.C. Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman. This time it will only represent about two-thirds, leaving fully a third of ballots that were never going to be counted on election night anyway, because by law they are only counted in the legislatively required final count, a couple of weeks later. Elections BC’s tentative schedule has the final count starting November 6, taking three days, then adding the six-day notice period for recount notices, that puts the target date at Monday, November 16. Q: How can the United States, a country of several hundred million people, come up with its numbers faster than a single province? A: As Boegman described it, there are different laws that make this a misleading comparison. For example, in some jurisdictions where voting is done by mail, they do not have to wait until voting stops in order to open the envelopes, as B.C. does. Q: What about Saskatchewan? A: That is a difference of scale. Saskatchewan has a smaller case of the same problem, with a final count scheduled 12 days after the election. Voting by mail has increased from a few thousand people in 2016, to more than 60,000 today, and their elections authority has instituted a second preliminary count for Oct. 28 in an effort to boost the certainty in the early days. So Saskatchewan could have a pretty good idea by next week. B.C. will have to wait. Porter said he knows there is intense interest in the results, “but all I can say is it will take as long as it takes… We will keep counting until it is finished.”
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