Elections BC begins firing up the machinery for a provincewide vote

Amid all the talk of an early vote on the harmonized sales tax, Elections B.C. is moving to acquire the necessary staff to oversee such a provincewide ballot.

The independent overseer of elections is this week issuing a casting call for local officers and deputies in the  85 provincial electoral districts.

Once those hirings are in place (and some of the positions will be filled by qualified officers from previous elections), the locals authorities can begin establishing  the rest of the electoral apparatus.

Such as acquiring space and other resources  for the roughly 1,500 polling stations needed to host a provincewide vote.

All this with an eye to June 24, the date discussed by several candidates for the B.C. Liberal leadership for holding a vote on the proposed initiative to extinguish the  HST.

 The vote is set for Sept. 24 under the provincial Initiative Act. But the cabinet has the option of scheduling an earlier vote, on an equivalent question, under a separate piece of legislation, the Referendum Act.

Elections B.C. has issued several cautions on the need for plenty of advance notice — four to six months has been mentioned — in order to establish machinery for a provincewide vote.

 These hirings are an indication that it has gotten the strong hint from the government side that the vote could be held sooner rather than later.

Time was when elections B.C. used to maintain the necessary staff, space, other resources on an ongoing basis, in the event the government were to call an election on short notice.

But when the four-year electoral cycle was incorporated into law back in 2001,  Elections B.C. shifted  to a reduced state of electoral readiness in the three years between set election dates, as a cost saving measure.

However the limitations of that practice were shown up when the successful petition on against the harmonized sales tax prompted the need for a provincewide vote on the initiative to extinguish the tax.

At the same time, one has to note that this latest move by Elections B.C. could end up serving a dual purpose.

For in acquiring the staff and resources to hold an early provincewide vote on the HST,  the necessary apparatus will also be in place for an early general election.

The date for the next election is set in law for May 2013.

 However, as has been noted many times, that is a "no-later than" date, not an absolute bar to an early election.

There's every chance that the new leader of the Liberals, once he/she is appointed premier by virtue of heading the party with the most seats in the legislature, will want to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate before the passage of two years.

The New Democrats are alert to that possibility, which is why the party decided to expedite the choice of its new leader with a convention on April 17, even though that meant the  cut off for signing  new members was just 10 days from now.

Depending on how the opinion polls shake out after the two new leaders are in place, some observers have speculated that the Liberals might go to an election as early as June 24, the same date as the proposed HST vote.

More likely, they'd do the HST vote, perhaps by mail,  as a cost-saving measure.

A mail-in ballot costs roughly $5 million, versus $30 million for a full blown trek to the polls by the entire electorate.

Then, depending on what happens to the HST, the government could bring in a new budget and throne speech in September, as a prelude to a general election in mid-fall.

Either way, all those new hires by Elections B.C. aren't likely to be idle for long.







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