Inefficient mail-in vote costs BCNDP even bigger win

Elections BC managed to count nearly 670,000 mail-in and absentee ballots in just over two days, resulting in the final count for the 2020 British Columbia General election.

Most outlets have already thoroughly reported the major shifts – the NDP picked up Abbotsford-Mission and Vernon Monashee from the Liberals, while the Liberals took back West Vancouver-Sea to Sky from the Greens. Pending a judicial recount in that latter riding, this means 57 BC NDP MLAs were elected with 47.70% of the vote, 28 BC Liberals with 33.77% and 2 BC Greens with 15.08%.

The mail-in ballots decidedly favoured the BCNDP.

In personMail-in
BC Liberal35.4%30.9%
BC NDP45.1%52.5%
BC Greens15.3%14.7%

Given this margin, the NDP arguably should have taken more seats from both opposition parties. If we assume that the mail-in ballots in each riding were cast in those proportions, the NDP would have also picked up both Green seats:

  • Cowichan Valley
  • Saanich North and the Islands

As well as the following seats from the BC Liberals:

  • Fraser-Nicola
  • Kamloops-North Thompson
  • Richmond North Centre
  • Surrey South
  • Surrey-White Rock
  • Vancouver-Langara

The Legislature would have then consisted of 65 BC NDP MLAs and 22 BC Liberals. All three Greens would’ve lost their seats.

Luckily for the opposition parties, the BC NDP’s mail-in votes were not that efficient!

The NDP’s mail-in ballots outperformed their in person votes in 51 ridings and in 25 ridings the party raked in over 60% of the mail-in votes. However, basically all of those ridings were ones the NDP was already strong in, like Surrey-Whalley (76% of mail-in votes), North Coast (73%), Langford-Juan de Fuca (72%) and Surrey-Green Timbers (70%). Essentially the NDP ran the table on mail-in votes in their safe seats.

The Liberals outperformed in 43 ridings, and exceeded 50% of the mail-in vote in 9 ridings. Their strongest performance was also in their own strongholds, notably Kelowna-Lake Country (55%), Vancouver-Quilchena (55%), West Vancouver-Capilano (53%), Prince George-Valemount (53%) and Peace River North (52%).

Critically, the BC Liberals overperformed in ridings like Richmond North Centre and Vancouver-Langara, which helped keep them from losing those additional seats. In others, like Fraser-Nicola, the NDP still outperformed their in person vote totals but didn’t score enough to win the riding.

Finally, the Greens mail-in ballot performance outperformed their in-person voting in 39 ridings. The Greens mail-in ballot performance was strongest in their strongholds: Saanich North and the Islands (49%), Cowichan Valley (43%), West Vancouver-Sea to Sky (32%), Nelson-Creston (29%) and Powell River-Sunshine Coast (28%).

Let’s zero in on West Vancouver-Sea to Sky since it’s the closest race and the only one automatically headed to a judicial recount. There both the BC Liberals and BC NDP mail-in votes outperformed their in person ballots, by 5% and 3% respectively, while the BC Greens mail-in ballots lagged their in person performance by 8%. This big swing turned a somewhat comfortable lead of over 1000 votes for the BC Greens into a 41 vote deficit to the BC Liberals.

The mail-in ballots shifted a number of other races as well. After the in-person ballots were counted on election day, the closest five races were:

  1. Richmond South Centre where NDP led Liberals by 124
  2. Vernon-Monashee where Liberals led NDP by 183
  3. Abbotsford-Mission where Liberals led NDP by 188
  4. Chilliwack-Kent where NDP led Laurie Throness by 195
  5. Fraser-Nicola where Liberals led NDP by 385

While after all the ballots were counted, the closest races are:

  1. West Vancouver-Sea to Sky Libs beat Green by 41
  2. Richmond South Centre NDP beat Liberals by 179
  3. Kamloops-North Thompson Liberals beat NDP by 196
  4. Surrey-White Rock Liberals beat NDP by 224
  5. Fraser-Nicola Liberals beat NDP by 282

So while the NDP managed to significantly close the gap in Kamloops-North Thompson and Surrey-White Rock, their inefficient mail-in votes weren’t enough to swing those seats.

Nevertheless, this is still a historic election result for the BCNDP. The party posted their highest vote share ever (the previous record was 45.99% in 1979, when they didn’t win government) and their largest caucus ever.

That said, as a fraction of the legislature, this victory is only their third strongest. The NDP now holds 66% of the seats, compared to Dave Barrett’s 1972 breakthrough with 69% of the seats and 39.6% of the vote and Mike Harcourt’s 1991 win with 68% of the seats with 40.7% of the vote. But no one ever said first past the post was an equitable electoral system.

Here’s my data

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