Pro rep supporters and volunteers pose at The Peach with completed ballots ready to return. Submitted photo

Pro rep supporters and volunteers pose at The Peach with completed ballots ready to return. Submitted photo

South Okanagan Similkameen leading in referendum ballot returns

Pro Rep group offering Nov. 22 information session

A local yes camp organizer isn’t worried about the low numbers of ballots being returned for the electoral reform election, despite the deadline approaching fast.

Related: B.C. referendum ballot count jumps to 18% returned, Elections B.C. says

“We’re hopeful we are going to see more returns. We hope to have as many people involved in the referendum and engaged in our electoral system as possible, but there is not always that many people that are really engaged,” said Diana McGregor, part of South Okanagan Similkameen Fair Vote, a group of volunteers who have spent the last 10 months supporting a yes vote on switching the B.C. electoral system to some type of proportional representation.

Elections B.C. reports that as of the morning of Nov. 20, about 24 per cent of the ballots have been returned to them. About 11.4 per cent have passed through their screening process.

Okanagan electoral districts are trending higher than the average for number of ballots returned and screened. Boundary-Similkameen leads the way with 19. 9 per cent returned, one of the highest rates in the province, and Penticton has a 15.5 per cent return. Kelowna-area electoral districts range from 13.5 to 17.2 per cent and Vernon-Monashee is at 15.7 per cent

The Surrey area is seeing the lowest return rate, with one district only at 4 per cent.

McGregor likens the low turnout to municipal elections. There were a few places that had less than 20 per cent turn out for their municipal election, she said.

In those cases, she explained, the votes aren’t thrown out simply because they didn’t have full voter engagement.

Together, volunteers have pulled together over 50 events and days of action to reach out to voters.

“We visited retirement homes, Pen Hi, Okanagan College, markets, libraries and churches. We’ve waved signs on the streets and knocked on over 800 doors,” said McGregor. “We are scientists, educators, students, trades-people, seniors and environmentalists. Each one of us has given our time freely because far too many people feel they don’t have a voice in government.”

McGregor said there are many who are unsure about the three systems offered in the second ballot question.

“That is what we are hearing from a lot of people, I want to vote yes for pro-rep, but I don’t know how to answer the second question,” she said, adding that the first thing they tell people is that’s fine. You can just answer the yes/no question and send your ballot in.

But if you do want to know more, there will be a free information session on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Penticton Public Library.

“Mostly, we are trying to help people who aren’t sure how they would like to vote, whether they would like to keep the old system or whether they would want to switch to a new system,” said McGregor. Many people, she continued, think they want to know all the detailed mechanics, but it turns out they really want to know which voting system reflects their values and ideals best.

“Any one of them is better than what we have now, we feel,” said McGregor. “The public is tired of hearing politicized rhetoric; they want to know the facts and see just how a new system would benefit every British Columbian. Feedback after our info sessions is that after seeing the facts, it was easy to make the choice to support a form of Pro Rep.”

Posted ballots need to be received by Elections BC in Victoria by Nov.30, or they can be dropped off at a Services BC office, up to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 30. In Penticton, the office is on Calgary Avenue. If you haven’t got your ballot package, you can pick one up at Services BC with valid ID, until Nov. 23.

Related: Elections BC keeps eye on Canada Post dispute, but no change in Nov. 30 deadline

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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