With political power in B.C.’s hung parliament dependent on thousands of yet-to-be counted absentee ballots — all eyes are on a few tight races that could still decide the election.
Among them, the nine-vote nailbiter in Courtenay-Comox, which could push the Liberals over the finish line to form a majority if they can snatch it from the NDP.
UBC economist Kevin Milligan says there’s no way to know for sure what will happen when Elections BC opens absentee ballots on May 22nd, but he says a look at the 2013 election could provide some insight.
Milligan analyzed the absentee vote in these tight ridings from 2013, then plugged the numbers into a simulation that he ran one million times.
“And what I found was about 60 per cent of the time, things just stay kind of like what they are, 43 seats for the Liberals, 41 for the NDP,” says Milligan. “But a substantial 25 per cent of the time, it turns out to be a tie, it would be 42-42.”
He says he also found a very slim one-to-five per cent chance the NDP pulls off an upset and grabs two extra seats.
Outcomes like that could come up if the NDP manage to grab the hotly contested Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, where the Liberals lead by just 170 votes, or Richmond-Queensborough, where Liberal Jas Johal is sitting on a 263 vote lead.
Milligan says he found just a one in ten chance the Liberals scoop another seat, and a tiny chance they could nail down two seats.
The Liberals’ best chance to score that double play would be to flip Comox along with Maple Ridge-Mission, where the NDP leads by 120 votes.
There are some caveats. The analysis does not take into account the riding boundary changes in Courteany-Comox, which shaved off an area traditionally friendly to the NDP, nor do they account for the Liberal Candidate Jim Benniger – the former base commander at CFB Comox.
At the same time, they don’t account for the 2017 voter trend, which saw the NDP out perform the BC Liberals compared to 2013 results in nearly every swing riding.
Milligan says the simulations, which appear to favour the New Democracts, emerged due to a surprising trend he found province-wide in the 2013 data.
“I learned two things… Number one, it systematically favours the NDP. The NDP get more of a boost from the absentee ballots than the Liberals do. And the second thing is the size of these boosts… can move the per cent vote up or down by about a half percentage point.”
Milligan says it’s not clear what about absentee voting favours the NDP, but says he has some theories.
“[There are] a couple possible reasons for that. Parties might have more aggressive get out the vote campaigns, but more likely to me is it’s the type of people who use this absentee thing might be quite different and might tend to favour for whatever reason the NDP.”
For the time being, Christy Clark will remain premier and have first crack at forming government in a minority parliament — with the Green Party playing kingmaker.
But things could change radically when Elections BC opens the estimated 170,000 absentee ballots, should Milligan’s lower-probability predictions come to pass.