The City of Surrey has re-jigged its election procedures bylaw to “increase accessibility” as it anticipates a voter turnout of 36 per cent when residents go to the polls in October
This is according to a corporate report by Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s general manager of corporate services, that came before council Monday, May 9.
Council approved amendments to the Surrey Election Procedures Bylaw that Costanzo said are designed to reflect recent changes in legislation and include “housekeeping changes” that will “increase accessibility” to voting. It also includes expanding mail ballot voting opportunities.
Costanzo noted in his report that lessons learned from the 2018 civic election and COVID-19 pandemic have informed the city’s four-pronged goal to ensure safe and accessible voting opportunities, voting efficiency through technology, to expand mail in ballot voting and to “raise awareness of the importance of voting.”
As of April, the corporate report indicates, 342,412 Surrey residents – 59 per cent of Surrey’s population – will be registered with Elections BC, for an increase of 20,400 eligible voters since 2018. In 2018, the last civic election, 110,920 Surrey residents voted making for a 34.4 per cent voter turnout. The 2014 election saw a voter turnout of 36.4 per cent, and in the 2011 election, 25 per cent.
“While voter turnout is estimated to be 36 per cent for the 2022 Election,” Costanzo wrote, “the actual processing capacity is designed to easily accommodate more than double the estimated turnout. A significantly higher than estimated voter turnout would simply translate to longer voter wait times, however all voters can be accommodated.”
His report indicates voting by appointment will be available during advance voting designed to provide an “efficient voting experience that is less congested, allows more time for voters who require assistance through the voting process and will be more accessible to voters who have difficulty standing for an extended period of time.”
Three of six advance voting spots will be set up for eligible voters to make an appointment to vote at Guildford Recreation Centre, Fleetwood Community Centre and Cloverdale Recreation Centre. “These locations will also accommodate drop-in voting in a separate room,” Costanzo reported. “Consideration has been given to address the heightened concern for health and safety and the possibility of a resurgence of COVID cases in the fall.”
Currently there is a consitutional challenge, of a Surrey bylaw governing political signage, being heard in B.C. Supreme Court that is expected to resume on May 18.
Surrey’s last civic election, in 2018, was marred with allegations of election fraud related to mail ballot applications, leading to a seven-month investigation by the Surrey RCMP.
The corporate report notes that in the 2018 election roughly 700 eligible voters qualified to vote by mail-in ballot. As per the Surrey Elections Bylaw, mail in ballot voting is limited to voters with special needs, such as residents in care facilities and hospital patients who can’t get to a voting station. But provincial and federal elections during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 saw significant increase in mail-in voting, resulting in city hall estimating that 17,000 Surrey voters could vote by mail this time out.
“Accordingly, staff recommend updates to the Surrey Elections Bylaw to expand mail in ballot opportunities for all eligible voters,” Costanzo wrote in his report. “The amendments also include refined procedures for processing and counting mail in ballots.”
Council also approved a staff recommendation to move the advance voting days closer to the Oct. 15 general voting day, with the closest being three days prior.
“This change is expected to increase voter turnout given its proximately to the general voting day,” Costanzo wrote. Advance polling dates are to be set for Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 9 and Oct. 12, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., at Princess Margaret Secondary, Semiahmoo Secondary, Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, Guildford Recreation Centre, Fleetwood Community Centre and Cloverdale Recreation Centre.