As the provincial election swings into gear, Abbotsford’s municipal government is confirming that mail-in voting will be possible the next time residents elect new city politicians.
Last summer, council told staff to implement an array of changes for the 2022 election, including boosting the number of polling locations on both election day and advance voting days. The changes will also permit mail-in voting, and allow voters to cast a ballot at any polling location in the city, not just their local designated station.
The decision came after The News reported in 2018 that the number of polling stations during municipal elections had declined significantly over the past decade, and that other rules made voting in Abbotsford more cumbersome than many similarly sized cities.
Most of the changes will be done administratively, and through the budget, but the city also had to tweak its election bylaw to specifically permit mail voting.
While the next civic elections aren’t set until 2022, residents in many cities – including Abbotsford – may be asked to cast ballots next spring. This fall’s provincial election includes numerous candidates who currently sit on municipal councils and school boards, including Coun. Bruce Banman and Trustee Preet Rai in Abbotsford. If either candidate is elected (the pair are running in separate ridings), a municipal by-elections will need to follow.
While hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have requested mail ballots for the provincial election, rules on mail ballots are tighter for municipalities. But the city’s lawyer says those rules may be relaxed in the event of a spring election.
Mail ballots typically are allowed only for those who can’t reasonably make it to a polling station, whether because their mobility is impaired or because they will be out of the province during voting.
Guidelines provided to municipal governments earlier this year suggested staff “Discuss with Ministry staff if expanded access to mail-ballot voting could be an option for the local government.”
Aniz Alani said noted that the province’s Chief Elections Officer can issue emergency orders that allow for “work-arounds including universal mail-in balloting.”
He continued: “the expectation based on the experience of at least four local governments that have had by-elections, is that the Ministry of Municpal Affairs and Housing would issue similar orders to facilitate a process that makes sense if the by-elections were to occur.”
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