Recount slightly widens NDP lead in Courtenay-Comox; absentee ballots to come

An initial recount is complete in Courtenay-Comox, increasing the NDP lead to 13 votes.

The NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard now leads with 10,056 votes over Liberal Jim Benninger’s 10,043 — an increase of four votes from the initial nine-vote difference. The election-night results left Leonard leading Benninger 10,058 to 10,049.

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More than 2,000 absentee ballots still have to be counted.

Elections B.C. began the final-count process Monday morning. The process involves counting absentee ballots — those cast outside of a voter’s designated voting station — as well as initial recounts in two districts.

The second district with an approved recount was Vancouver-False Creek, where the Liberals now lead the NDP by 569 votes — an increase in nine votes from the initial count.

Elections B.C. will post its final update for the day at 5 p.m. Requests for recounts are accepted if candidates are separated by 100 or fewer votes.

The final count will be complete by the end of the day Wednesay.

Most district electoral officers across the province on Monday were counting absentee ballots, of which there are 179,380.

Elections B.C. plans to update its website throughout the process.

The results in Courtenay-Comox could determine whether the B.C. Liberals will have the 44 seats needed to form a majority government.

The Liberals currently have 43 of the 87 seats in the legislature, and would move to 44 if they retake Courtenay-Comox and no other ridings change hands.

The NDP has 41 seats, while the B.C. Green Party has three and the potential balance of power in a minority government with either of the other two parties.

Anton Boegman, deputy chief electoral officer with Elections B.C., said the recount in Courtenay-Comox will likely take all of Monday to complete.

The day will begin with multiple two-person teams recounting the ballots that were cast on May 9 as well as those cast on advance voting days. One person on the team does the counting, the other marks the results on a tally sheet.

The district electoral officer supervises the process. The candidates and their representatives will be there to observe, but must make a declaration of secrecy before taking part.

Counting will be slower than on election night because there are fewer teams. There will be opportunities to question ballots that were marked incorrectly or where a voter’s intention is unclear.

“If there are ballots that are objected to in a recount, then the district electoral officer must make the decision on whether to accept it or reject that ballot,” Boegman said.

Once the recount is finished, officials will begin counting absentee ballots, including those that were cast outside the district; within the district, but not at the voter’s assigned voting place; at the office of the district electoral officer; or by mail.

Absentee ballots also include votes collected by mobile teams that visit locations where people are unable to get to voting places, such as hospitals, isolated communities, logging and fishing camps.

The count begins 13 days after election day to allow time for the certification envelopes that contain the ballots to travel from the district where they were cast to the district where the voter is registered.

The process to count absentee ballots can be time-consuming because officials have to organize the absentee votes by type, open and file the certification envelopes, remove the inner “secrecy” envelope that contains the ballot, open that envelope and put the ballot in a ballot box and then count the ballots.

Boegman said the length of time to complete the final counts varies depending on volume. Typically, ridings can finish counting the absentee ballots in a day.

In ridings where there is a recount as well as the final count, it takes longer.

In 2013, a recount was required in Saanich North and the Islands where the NDP’s Gary Holman led Liberal Stephen P. Roberts by 52 votes after election night. The lead slipped to 47 votes following the recount on the first day of the final count, grew to 92 votes once officials began counting absentee votes on the second day, and widened to 163 votes by the third.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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