The campaigns have ended, but the election is far from over.
That’s because eight Saskatchewan electoral districts are in races too tight to call with thousands of mail-in ballots yet to be counted.
Mail-in ballots reached record-high levels due to the pandemic, with 61,255 ballots requested and more than 40,000 returned to Elections Saskatchewan by election day.
That’s a huge increase from the 4,420 mail-in ballots received during the 2016 provincial election.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili’s riding in flux
Prince Albert Northcote, Regina Coronation Park, Regina Pasqua, Regina University, Saskatoon Eastview, Saskatoon Meewasin, Saskatoon Riversdale and Saskatoon University were all declared too close to call by CBC News due to the volume of mail-in ballots still to be counted.
The Saskatchewan NDP did not put up candidates in these tight races for interviews, saying it is waiting for results to be finalized.
Ryland Hunter, who is running against the Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili, thanked his team for their efforts in a statement sent to media.
“Saskatoon Meewasin is a really tight race at this point. Big thanks to my team of volunteers and those that supported me at the polls. We will have to wait on the mail-in ballot count to see the final result.”
Chris Guérette became the Saskatchewan Party candidate in the electoral district of Saskatoon Eastview after original candidate Daryl Cooper resigned when it was made public he had interacted with QAnon supporters online. As election night concluded, NDP candidate Matt Love was leading Guérette by less than 100 votes in a riding where more than 1,500 mail-in ballots have been approved.
Guérette said waiting on mail-in ballots is “the reality of an election during a pandemic” and that she’s excited to see what the results hold.
“That’s what the process is all about. The democratic process is one that requires patience and it just means this marathon is requiring a few more days and I look forward to hearing the results.”
Dr. Neil Hibbert, department head at the University of Saskatchewan’s department of political science, said he’s not aware of any time in Saskatchewan’s history the province has been faced with this type of situation during an election.
“It really sits at odds with people’s experience and expectations with elections,” said Hibbert. “Generally, there’s this sort of build up to the one big day, a bit of early voting maybe, but the majority of ballots being cast on election day.”
He said it’s common for people to gather after polls close and watch the results roll in as candidates concede or claim victory. He said this “puts a bow on the process,” allowing the province to move forward.
In this election people may be waiting days to hear final results.
The count for mail-in ballots received by Oct. 26 won’t be started until Oct. 28, with mail-in ballots received after election day being counted Nov. 7.
Hibbert said the longer the timeframe between election day and the results, the more possibilities there are for “little bumps along the road,” which may include candidates seeking legal advice or challenging ballots.
He said he feels it’s important to practise a bit of patience as the results are tallied.
“Ultimately, an accurate count is more important than an immediate or a timely one,” he said.
Michael Boda, Saskatchewan’s Chief Electoral Officer, said mail-in and advance ballots were used to spread out voting as much as possible to combat the spread of COVID-19.
He said that while more than 61,000 mail-in ballots were approved, Elections Saskatchewan has no idea how many of those will be returned, saying the counting of ballots will be a “very different process” than the 2016 election.
“In Saskatchewan, normally the election is pretty much over on election night,” said Boda. “Because we have such a large number of people vote-by-mail ballots, and there may be some close races, in those instances they may depend on the vote-by-mail count.”
Boda stressed that the first two counts, on Oct. 26 and Oct. 28, are considered preliminary counts, with a Nov. 7 count being considered final. Counting could be slowed by the fact election workers are using gloves, as opposed to their bare hands, as they manually count the vote, Boda said.
While Boda has helped guide elections through natural disasters and violence in the decades he’s been working as an electoral officer, he conceded running Saskatchewan’s election during a pandemic is a first for him.
“It has been challenging. It has been unique, I will say it has been interesting,” he said.
Hibbert said so many people being willing to take the extra steps to cast their ballot during a pandemic is something to be noted.
“If you think about it, it’s kind of a remarkable achievement that people are willing to adjust and be flexible in real time,” he said.
Tight races by the numbers: votes tallied so far and mail-in ballots pending
Prince Albert Northcote
Sask Party, Alana Ross: 2,393
NDP, Nicole Rancourt: 2,171
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 568
Regina Coronation Park
Sask. Party, Mark Docherty: 2,652
NDP, Noor Burki: 2,202
Mail-in Ballots to be counted: 806
Sask. Party, Muhammad Fiaz: 3,781
NDP, Bhajan Brar: 3,205
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 2,674
SaskParty, Tina Beaudry-Mellor: 2,573
NDP, Aleana Young: 2,395
Mail-in Ballots to be counted: 1,814
NDP, Matt Love: 3,127
Sask. Party, Chris Guérette: 3,025
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,555
Sask. Party, Marv Friesen: 2,661
NDP, Ashlee Hicks: 2,387
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 920
Sask. Party, Rylund Hunter: 2,805
NDP, Ryan Meili: 2,722
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,656
NDP, Jennifer Bowes: 2,414
Sask. Party, Eric Olauson: 2,309
Mail-in ballots to be counted: 1,296