Editorial: A new way to elect our legislature

The 2020 provincial election is sure to be remembered for many reasons — not the least of them being the new ideas, logistically speaking, brought about by the pandemic.

Consider: No door-knocking. No town hall meetings. No big rallies. And not as many signs cluttering the landscape.

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All of these changes came about because of the need for social distancing — and that need affected the way we cast our votes. As a result, about 725,000 people asked for mail-in ballots, with half of those ballots returned a week before today’s election. There were more chances to vote in advance than ever before.

Ah, but some voters might now have buyers remorse, having decided that going early was not the smartest thing to do. Ballots requested before the nomination deadline were sent out blank, so voters had to fill in the names of their choices.

Mistakes can be made; voters told the Times Colonist that they had entered the names for candidates in other ridings, or candidates who were not running this time, and so on. Beyond that, opening the voting window early has transformed the way campaigns should be run, although some parties might not have realized that in time.

In the old days — basically, every election up to the one in 2017 — campaign platforms and promises were rolled out over a month, with parties and their candidates trying to build momentum every day. It’s different now.

Why hang on to a killer idea, one that could bring many more supporters to your side, when every day tens of thousands of people are voting? Best to get everything out on the first day, or at least in a series of peaks to snare that week’s voters.

From a citizen’s perspective, voting early could be a missed chance to vote for someone who turned out later in the campaign to be a preferred candidate.

Also, what if you cast your ballot early, and then someone reveals a recording of your chosen candidate indulging in misogynist or racist behaviour? There is no chance for a do-over with the ballot box. You’ve thrown your support behind someone you might rather not support.

None of this will be a big concern for the devoted party supporters, the ones who will vote, no matter what, for the New Democrat, or Liberal, or Green, or Communist candidates.

Some seats are considered safe because support is locked in from election to election, with party loyalists treating the campaign itself — all the promises, debates and thundering indignation — as just so much noise. For them, early voting works just fine.

But what about the rest?

In the days ahead, voters will need to consider whether they like the 2020 concept of an election, or prefer the way it used to be.

And we will have plenty of time to think of it, again thanks to all those ballots mailed in. Votes cast on election day and in the advance polls will be counted this evening, but it will take at least a couple of weeks to count the mail-in ballots.

With mail-in ballots accounting for perhaps a third of the total, we’re just going to have to be patient while awaiting the outcome of tight races — and, quite possibly, of the entire election.

If any party has a clear majority at midnight tonight, then odds are the majority will hold. But if the two leading parties are close, then we might not know for at least a couple of weeks which party will form the government. Or maybe more: In 2017 the answer was not clear for seven weeks after election day. That sort of delay is far from ideal.

Good governance gets put on hold while we’re waiting to find out who is in charge. If we are to keep the pandemic-style approach, allowing people to vote at their leisure at any time throughout the campaign, then we’re going to have to change the way we count the ­ballots.

An early vote shouldn’t mean a late result.

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