It was a perfect storm of sorts that led to the painfully slow counting of votes across the province on May 29.
Changes in process, late-closing polling stations and even a greater focus on accuracy over speed culminated in vote counting that dragged late into the night and in some areas into the morning.
But of them all, late-closing polling stations likely caused the greatest delays, explains Robyn Bell, spokesperson for Elections Alberta.
“The initial result in delays wasn’t to do the with the counting process, but it was that voting places remained open to accommodate long lines of voters so that everyone did have an opportunity to vote,” Bell says.
“Even if just one voting place remains open in an electoral division, none of the voting places can report results until all of them have closed.”
Bell says if people see results being reported from their electoral division while they are still standing in line to vote, and notice the votes are going one way or the other, that could discourage them from voting and make them feel their votes don’t matter.
“That’s why an electoral division can’t report until all voting locations have closed.”
Bell says there was also a change in how ballots were counted this year, and that came from the Vote Anywhere Service that allows people to vote in advance at any polling stations in the province.
In 2019 the service was also used, but the ballots were transported to, and counted at Elections Alberta headquarters. That resulted in a three-day delay in reporting those ballots, and people felt their votes didn’t matter because the election was called before their votes had been counted.
This year the counting took place in the returning offices so that all reporting could be done on election night. But that created a greater workload for the returning officers because they counted special ballots, mobile voting ballots, hand-counted ballots and advance ballots.
“For the tabulator – the vote anywhere ballot – they’re not necessarily just counting ballots for their electoral division, they could be counting ballots for multiple electoral divisions,” Bell says. “So that takes some time to do that, and we really want to prioritize the accuracy of reporting over the speed of reporting.”
Bell adds that voting technology is less about faster reporting, and more about making voting more accessible to people.
Bell says it’s unclear at this point if anything will change for the next election, but she says there will be a review process to determine what went well and what may not have gone so well this election, and what can be done better.
“That’s the process we’ll be entering into in the next few months, and recommendations will be put forward to the report of the chief electoral officer and received by the legislative assembly.”
The legislative assembly, Bell adds, can also provide recommendations based on it’s experience.
“So its very possible we could see some changes to this process before the next election.”
Bell says there weren’t any major issues with technology this election, and everything went according to process, despite the impacts of the late-closing polling stations. The locations and number of those sites aren’t tracked, however, so that information is unavailable.
“But there were a number of locations who stayed open late to accommodate long line-ups.”
Bell is confident counting is accurate, but she notes only the unofficial count has been completed, and the official results should be available June 8.
Any electoral divisions in which a candidate won by 100 votes or less, will have a recount of every ballot. That is currently happening in the electoral divisions of Calgary-Acadia and Calgary-Glenmore.
There were also several other divisions that had close results – but still above the 100-vote standard – and after the official results are released, there will be an eight-day period during which any candidate can apply to the Court of King’s Bench for a judicial recount.