Voters will be able to cast a mail ballot for the Chilliwack school board byelection after all.
Elections officers are rushing to get the ballots ready for those who request them. The chief election officer applied for a ministerial order back on Nov. 19, and it was approved by the Ministry of Education on Jan. 15.
It was added as a last-minute agenda item at this week’s city council meeting and announced officially on Jan. 20. Applications will be available online through the city website (chilliwack.com) between Jan. 21 at 8:30 a.m. and Jan. 28 at 4 p.m., which is the deadline to apply.
Those will then need to filled out and returned by 8 p.m. on General Voting Day, which is Feb. 13. While they can be mailed in, they can also be dropped at city hall to someone in person during business hours, or via a drop box which is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Packages will be mailed out with instructions on how to complete and return a ballot.
This additional voting option could help increase voter turnout for the byelection. School board byelections already have a very low turnout, but the concern of the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially keep voters from turning out at all.
That was the reasoning behind adding mail-in ballots, which will include some variances from usual mail ballot processes. There will be secrecy sleeves instead of secrecy envelopes, for example. The ballots received prior to general election day will also be fed into the tabulating machines before election day.
Packages will be mailed out with instructions on how to complete and return a ballot. The city reminds voters it is the voter’s responsibility to ensure ballots are returned on time. Ballots received after 8:00 pm on February 13, 2021 will not be counted. Due to the potential for postal delays, residents are encouraged to drop off their ballots at City Hall or on one of the advance voting days, if possible.
One of the candidates had already spoken out about the lack of mail ballots.
“A mail-in ballot option is a safest way for residents of Chilliwack and the surrounding electoral districts to vote during the pandemic and has been demonstrated to be an effective tool to support voter engagement,” Carin Bondar noted in a news release. “This is such an important byelection and we should be doing everything we can to provide safe opportunities to cast a ballot during a pandemic.”
Mayor Ken Popove said this will increase options for people to vote during a pandemic.
“We are pleased that the provincial government responded to our request to make mail-in voting an option for those who need it,” Popove said. “In addition to this new option, the City’s voting places have COVID-19 safety plans to ensure the by-election will be safe for voters, candidates, and election staff.”
Heritage Park and the Landing Sports Centre are both larger facilities within the City that offer space for physical distancing. Each facility will have additional protective measures in place, including capacity limits; plexiglass barriers; hand sanitizing stations; mandatory face coverings; and frequent cleaning of voting stations and high-touch surfaces, including the pencils/pens provided for voting.
Those with accessibility needs can call 604-793-2986 for assistance in applying for a mail-in ballot package.
Three advance voting days are scheduled for February 3, 10, and 11. The city says these times and larger locations will keep voters safely apart during this byelection. Voting Day is Feb. 13 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Heritage Park and the Landing Sports Centre.
More information about the mail-in ballot process and the by-election is available at chilliwack.com/elections.
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