Not all of the voter packages mailed out for this fall’s elections referendum are making it into the hands of the voter on the address label, but Elections B.C. says the odds are against voters committing fraud.
Some of the three million brown envelopes containing a chance to vote on future provincial voting systems — maintain the “first past the post” or adopt a new proportional representation — mailed out between Oct. 22 and this Friday, have been seen piling up in the lobbies of multi-family residences.
They are addressed to residents listed on B.C.’s election rolls, but some may have moved and others may have discarded them, not knowing, or knowing, what they are for.
Ex-MLA Judi Tyabji has said she feared a lot of these envelopes would end up in recycling and picked up by anyone, leaving the system open to abuse.
The Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has collected and analyzed data from U.S. elections about absentee voting, or voting by mail (VBM), to determine “whether it increases voter fraud.”
It said VBM increased “opportunities for coercion and voter impersonation” and raised concerns about “ballots being intercepted and ballots being requested without the voter’s permission.”
“As with all forms of voter fraud, documented instances of fraud related to VBM are rare,” the lab found. “However, even many scholars who argue that fraud is generally rare agree that fraud with VBM voting seems to be more frequent than with in-person voting.”
“We have a number of safeguards to protect the integrity of the system,” said Elections B.C. spokesman Andrew Watson.
He said he couldn’t reveal all safeguards because it could jeopardize their effectiveness, but did say Elections B.C. would confirm the voter’s date of birth by matching it against the electors’ roll.
The ballot would also have to be signed, but the signature isn’t verified.
Watson said anyone who is delivered a package for someone who is no longer living at the address, should mark it “return to sender” and mail it back to Elections B.C.
He noted that during the 2011 harmonized sales tax provincewide mail-in referendum, two per cent of returned ballots, or 38,000, were “set aside” because they weren’t completed properly. The reasons were varied but could have included evidence of an unconfirmed identity.
During the 2015 mail-in plebiscite on transit and transportation in parts of B.C., the percentage of returned ballots “set aside,” was almost five per cent, or around 38,000 ballots, according to the chief electoral officer’s report.
Watson said its post-2011 referendum survey of more than 6,000 voters indicated that 99.7 per cent of respondents confirmed they participated.
He said there were “significant penalties” for those convicted of voter fraud, including fines of up to $20,000 and up to two years in jail. There have never been any such charges in B.C., said Watson.
He also said it’s an offence if a voter’s envelope is opened without the voter’s permission. Also, a ballot must by law be filled out only by the registered voter, but there are exceptions, including those needing assistance because of a disability or language barrier.
Each voter should receive a voter’s package by Friday, said Watson. He said because of rotating postal strikes affecting mail delivery in some cities, the mail-out deadline may be extended.
During the 2011 HST referendum, mail delivery was halted for several days because of a management lockout of employees and the chief electoral officer extended the mail-out and mail-in deadlines to “ensure the integrity of the referendum,” his report said.
Voters not receiving a package by Friday can request a ballot up until Nov. 23. All ballots must be mailed back by Nov. 30.