The transit plebiscite ballot that's to arrive in the mail in the second half of March.

Honour system to bar voters from reversing referendum votes

Elections BC says it's illegal to ask for new ballot to switch your vote in Metro Vancouver plebiscite on transit sales tax

Voters in the transit tax plebiscite who try to get a new ballot so they can change their vote weeks after mailing in the first one would be in violation of the Election Act.

That’s the response of Elections BC spokesman Don Main to Black Press questions about the potential under the plebiscite regulation for Metro Vancouver voters to effectively reverse their vote on the proposed sales tax increase.

“You can’t go back and change it,” Main said. “Once they’ve mailed it, they’ve completed the ballot – they’ve voted.”

But the rules leave some scope for abuse in the lengthy mail-in referendum, much like the honour system that governs SkyTrain stations.

Someone who doesn’t receive a ballot or loses it is permitted under the rules to request a new one.

Each ballot is barcoded and securely linked to that specific voter and Main said Elections  BC will void the original ballot to ensure it can’t be counted when they send out a new replacement. That’s to ensure no one can vote multiple times.

But it also means there is a mechanism to negate a vote that’s already gone out.

Main conceded it is possible someone might claim theirs was lost or stolen in order to get a new ballot and change their vote.

If a completed ballot has already arrived for that voter when they contact Elections BC seeking a new one, Main said, they will be required to sign a declaration that they have not previously voted.

“We’re probably going to direct them to one of our service centres,” he said, referring to nine offices across the region that will be set up by April 13 to issue and receive ballots and handle related questions.

Main said signing the declaration to get a new ballot to replace one already mailed would be a violation of the “corrupt voting” section of the Election Act that makes it an offence to vote “when not entitled to do so” or “more than once” in an election.

The act allows fines of up to $20,000 and/or two years in prison.

Elections BC does not have a legal opinion on whether the Election Act’s prohibition is enforceable in the case of the transit plebiscite.

More than 1.5 million ballots are to start arriving at Metro Vancouver homes starting March 16 and are due back to Elections BC by May 29.

May 15 is the deadline for voters to request a ballot if they did not receive one in the mail.

Polls show the Yes campaign trailing badly and Insights West vice-president Mario Canseco had predicted No voters may mail their ballots soon after they arrive, rapidly locking up a strong No advantage.

But any scenario where votes cast early could be reversed later may spur both camps to battle for swing votes deeper into April and even May in case the public’s mood shifts.

“This is like the Wild West,” Canseco said, adding the length of the mail-in voting period creates unusual challenges.

“You can say it saves money to not have people minding polling stations and counting the votes as they come in. But it also leads to a lot of confusion.”

No campaign head Jordan Bateman said he doesn’t see fraudulent reversible votes as a threat to the No advantage, but he also questioned the length of the campaign.

“Why the heck did we need 10 weeks?” he asked. “The HST was province-wide and it had a mail strike in the middle of it and it needed only five or six.”

Bateman did accuse Elections BC of selectively applying the Elections Act to the plebiscite – threatening penalties in this case but not imposing any of the law’s rules on campaign finances, which has been left completely unregulated.

The plebiscite rules were set by the transportation ministry, not Elections BC.

“Why we have road builders planning elections makes about as much sense as having an election officer build a road.”

Bateman said he will also be watching to see where Elections BC opens its plebiscite service offices.

“I expect them to show up in very Yes-heavy neighbourhoods.”