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Tabulation change led to delay in voting results: Elections Alberta

The cameras were rolling Monday night and thousands of Albertans were tuned to their favourite TV anchors, waiting for news of who would form the next provincial government.
Elections Alberta is using tabulators to conduct the count for ballots cast at advance voting places, with hand counts being used for all Special Ballot, Election Day, and Mobile Voting Places. (Elections Alberta Photo)

The cameras were rolling Monday night and thousands of Albertans were tuned to their favourite TV anchors, waiting for news of who would form the next provincial government.

And waiting. And waiting.

“You generally have a window in your mind of when you will have a complete enough picture to project a government,” said the CBC’s Rob Brown. “That went out the window pretty early.”

Brown was one of the anchors for whom the election show had to go on, with results or without them.

An Elections Alberta official said a change in how advance “vote anywhere” ballots are counted contributed to the delay in getting the numbers out.

In front of the cameras, under the lights, that explanation didn’t help.

“It was sort of like being in the middle of the ocean and having no idea where things were going,” Brown said.

Only a small fraction of results were available 90 minutes after polls closed. The United Conservative Party win wasn’t called for another 90 minutes after that.

At one point, Global TV executive producer Deb Zinck wanted to show viewers a riding that was tied. She found one.

“For each of the UCP, the NDP and the Greens, it was exactly one vote each. One. One. One. It was like calling a hockey game — ‘in other ridings, the score is 3-1.’”

Zinck stopped counting the number of elections she has broadcast when she reached two dozen. This one was like no other.

“I have never seen results come in like this.”

Elections Alberta spokeswoman Robyn Bell said the advance ballots that allow Albertans vote in advance at any polling station in the province probably made the difference.

“In the previous election in 2019, those ballots were transported back to Elections Alberta for a count and you may remember that resulted in a 2-1/2 day delay in reporting after the election,” she said.

As well, Bell said transmitting the official statement of votes has to be inputted into the results site, and every step of the way has a verification process.

Zinck said she knew about the change but didn’t expect it to gum up the reporting so heavily.

“I was not prepared for a flood of ridings that came in reporting one vote, or two votes or three votes,” she said.

Brown said nobody was ready for that.

“You rehearse scenarios so that you have everybody prepared. That was something nobody rehearsed at any of the networks, I’m sure.”

At one point, the delay itself was the news.

“That became a preoccupation for a while,” said Brown. “The process became the story.”

But there’s always on-scene reporters to cut to or expert guests to converse with.

“We never run out of things to say,” Zinck laughed.

Bell said about six months after every election, recommendations come in a report from the chief electoral officer. The legislative assembly also has a chance to make suggestions.

She said the previous system wasn’t perfect, either.

“In 2019, I think the delay in counting ultimately kind of resulted in people feeling like their vote didn’t matter, because the election was called before those ‘vote anywhere’ ballots were even counted.”

Bell said there will be automatic recounts in Calgary Acadia and Calgary Glenmore, since the margin of victory in those constituencies was under 100 votes.

Global’s broadcast finally ended at midnight. Zinck stuck around for another two hours, monitoring the 20 or so ridings that were still undecided.

As the CBC show went off the air, Brown asked the traditional journalist’s postelection question: “Where can we go for a drink?”

The show had gone on so long, everything in downtown Edmonton was closed.