Mail-in ballot problems plague Abbotsford by-election

Voting by mail is supposed to make things easier. But the City of Abbotsford’s handling of mail ballots for the upcoming by-election have left at least four people without the ability to vote.

By Tyler Olsen | September 24, 2021 |7:44 am

This story appeared in the Sept. 24 edition of the Fraser Valley Current daily newsletter. Subscribe below for every story delivered to your inbox first thing in the morning.

Voting by mail is supposed to make things easier. But the City of Abbotsford’s handling of mail ballots for the upcoming by-election have left at least four people without the ability to vote, and others angry at the cumbersome process and a lack of clarity from city hall.

The City of Abbotsford wouldn’t admit to any specific errors or issues to The Current, but two women—who were interviewed separately without knowledge of one another—were told that by the time the city received ballots from the printer, it was too late to mail them as had been promised to voters.

Bev Kallies, one of the women who found herself waiting longer than expected for a ballot, believes the process will likely have caused some voters to abandon plans to vote.​ And the delayed delivery has left Larry Gilbert unable to vote entirely. 

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Gilbert was scheduled to be working in Washington State tomorrow, when Abbotsford’s municipal by-election will be held. So, with this the first year mail ballots were an option, he applied online and waited for his ballot to arrive in the mail as promised. And waited. And waited.

When the ballot didn’t show up on the date it was promised, Gilbert’s wife, Shirley Wilson—a trustee who sits on the Abbotsford School Board—called city hall. Eventually, after multiple calls over multiple days, she was told that because the city hadn’t received the ballots quickly enough, they would have to be picked up at city hall. But they wouldn’t be ready until Gilbert had left the country for work. Although he was still in Abbotsford when advance polls were being held, by previously applying for a mail ballot, he was no longer allowed to vote by other means.

So Gilbert won’t be voting. The City of Abbotsford says there are four people in Gilbert’s situation.

Bev Kallies will. But she too says she was left fighting for information about what she was to do, and why the promises made by the city failed to materialize.

Abbotsford voters left waiting for ballots 

Kallies had requested a ballot because she was seeking to minimize public interactions because of COVID. She too became concerned when a ballot didn’t arrive, and also called city hall. She received the same answer: the ballots hadn’t been delivered on time, and would have to be picked up. The process was more laborious than she planned for, and left her facing some of the same public interactions she had hoped to avoid.

Kallies’ concern now is that others who had sought to use a mail-in ballot could be discouraged from voting. She was only told how to pick up her ballot on Sept. 20. The instruction package delivered to Kallies and others told people to put their ballots in the mail no later than Sept. 17. (The city’s website currently suggests the earliest pick-up date was Sept. 20. But those dates have been altered at least once.)

“The average person would just let it go, but I won’t. Every vote counts,” Kallies said. Wilson, who has run for office five times before, expressed a similar sentiment and plans to write a letter to the provincial government.

City officials blamed new provincial legislation for the issues, but in a statement to The Current, a spokesperson wrote in an email: “The City of Abbotsford is committed to ensuring that voters have an opportunity to cast their ballot and is working closely with those voters who have had issues with the new mail-in ballot process. As with any new and complex process, the City will do a post-event briefing to discuss challenges that may have come up and to help us in making improvements for the future. “

The spokesperson said 1,344 mail voting packages “were processed,” and that officials are following up with 50 people who submitted incomplete mail packages. They wouldn’t provide more information, though, on what went wrong.

On Saturday, Abbotsford voters will elect a new council—at least, some will. Larry Gilbert and at least three others were never able to cast ballots. And that demands answers, Wilson says.

“He’s been eliminated from the vote.”

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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