Half of 3 million HST ballots returned

More than 1.6 million voters sent in their ballots for B.C.'s referendum on the harmonized sales tax, a participation rate that matches the 51 per cent turnout for the 2009 B.C. election.

Elections BC staff process HST ballots received from voters. Officials say turnout has been 'steady.'

VICTORIA – More than 1.6 million voters sent in their ballots for B.C.’s referendum on the harmonized sales tax, a participation rate that matches the 51 per cent turnout for the 2009 B.C. election.

Elections BC sent out just over three million ballot packages starting in June, then extended the deadline for returning them by two weeks after a labour dispute at Canada Post delayed distribution.

Temporary staff at Elections BC are working seven days a week in two shifts, intending to have the ballots verified and counted by the end of August. A simple majority of votes cast will decide whether B.C. keeps the HST and lowers the rate by two points to 10 per cent in the next three years, or reinstates the former seven per cent provincial sales tax on top of the five per cent federal GST.

Acting chief electoral officer Craig James said the time extension increased the cost of the referendum by $500,000 but the total cost is estimated to be $8.9 million, well under the initial estimate of $12 million.

The only other mail-in referendum in B.C. was the 2002 vote on aboriginal treaty principles, which saw a return of 790,182 votes, about one third of the total sent out.

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