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Election officials expect most postal votes to be counted by Wednesday

OTTAWA — The final results of the federal election may not be known until Wednesday, election officials have warned, because of almost one million mail-in ballots that will not be opened until Tuesday.

OTTAWA — The final results of the federal election may not be known until Wednesday, election officials have warned, because of almost one million mail-in ballots that will not be opened until Tuesday.

A clutch of close-run ridings, where mail-in ballots could prove crucial to the result, may have to wait days for a winner to be declared. 

Elections Canada expects “the vast majority” of mail-in ballots to be counted by Wednesday. But in some remote ridings, and those with thousands of mail ballots, the result may not be known until Friday.

A record number of people have voted by mail in this election, some because of fears of voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Local elections agents will begin opening postal ballots on Tuesday morning. 

Before they are counted, ballots will be verified by local voting officials. They check to ensure voters have not sent in multiple ballots or have already voted in person in a polling station. Officials also verify voters' signatures.

British Columbia has the greatest number of mail-in ballots, many of them on Vancouver Island. In the Victoria riding, more than 12,600 people applied to vote by mail — the most in Canada — followed by Saanich—Gulf Islands, where more than 10,700 people applied for postal votes. 

The Courtenay—Alberni riding, which includes parts of Nanaimo, B.C., had 9,870 voting kits issued. More than 9,500 voters in the nearby B.C. riding of North Island—Powell River applied for postal ballots. In Nanaimo—Ladysmith, more than 8,800 voters registered to vote by mail, while in Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, more than 8,700 voters applied for mail-in ballots. 

Postal votes could dictate which party wins in a series of ridings facing a photo finish.

The closest race is in the B.C. riding of Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, where the Liberals fought off a Conservative challenge by only 153 votes in the 2019 federal election. More than 4,000 voters have voted by mail in the knife-edge riding. 

Political scientists said voters will need to be "patient" in some close-run ridings and to prepare for delayed final results. 

Melanee Thomas, associate professor in the department of political science at University of Calgary, said that although mail ballots could influence results in close seats, they would unlikely determine the overall election result. 

"Folks need to be patient. We are not going to have a clear result in some places until these mail ballots are counted," she said. "I don't think this is going to influence the overall result or make a difference to whether there is a Liberal minority government.

In Québec — an electoral district in Quebec City — Jean-Yves Duclos, a cabinet minister in Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s government, is facing a close challenge from the Bloc Québécois and more than 1,400 voters have sent in ballots by mail. 

One of the closest electoral battles is in the Yukon, which returns a single MP. At the last election, the Liberals fought off the Tories by only 153 votes. More than 1,800 voters have cast their vote by mail in the riding. 

Postal voters could also decide the outcome in the Montreal riding of Hochelaga, where the Liberals won by only 328 votes in 2019.

At Elections Canada’s distribution centre in Ottawa on Monday evening, workers were busy counting around 200,000 special ballots that had been sent to Ottawa. The votes from expatriates, people voting outside their ridings, Canadian Forces, as well as inmates in prisons throughout the country were already being tallied by election workers before polls closed. 

Election officials began counting the ballots sent to Ottawa — which unlike most mail-in ballots are not counted in local ridings — 10 days ago. By 8.40 p.m. Monday, they had counted 120,000 ballots at the vast warehouse where, once the election is over, every ballot cast in the country will be stored for 10 years. 

Natasha Gauthier, spokeswoman for Elections Canada, said that although "90-95 per cent of results will be in" on Monday night, local ridings will not open almost one million mail-in ballots until Tuesday morning. Voters in seats where results have yet to be declared will be able to track how many mail-in ballots have been counted starting Tuesday, she added.

"You could have a riding where the race is tight," Gauthier said Monday. "Starting tomorrow, you can look up your riding and see what percentage of ballots have been counted. At the end of each counting shift they will be updated."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press