VICTORIA -- British Columbia's top electoral officials are preparing for a flood of mail-in ballots that could delay key election results for weeks as many voters are expected to avoid the polls in the B.C. general election next month.

An estimated 800,000 mail-in votes – or 35 per cent of all ballots cast – may need to be scrutinized over a 13-day period following the Oct. 24 election date, according to Elections BC.

Chief electoral officer Anton Boegman said Tuesday the number of mail-in votes could be as high as 40 per cent, and additional time will be required to scrutinize each ballot.

"Our commitment is to make sure the count is done as quickly as possible," Boegman said. "If there are 800,000 it will take longer. I don’t know how much longer, but it will take longer."

Less than 24 hours after B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan announced the snap election for British Columbia, Elections BC says it has already received more than 20,000 requests for mail-in voting packages.

Mail-in ballots typically account for about one per cent all votes cast in B.C. general elections. But with coronavirus cases surging and a provincial election suddenly less than five weeks away, Elections BC has turned to a mechanized process to assemble mail-in voting packages – a process that's typically done by hand.

Voters who wish to cast a ballot by mail are asked to request their voting packages as early as possible, either online or by phone at 1-800-661-8683.

A list of candidates will not be provided in the voting packages until candidacy deadlines pass, rendering early mail-in votes essentially write-in ballots. Packages will include a write-in ballot, secrecy sleeve, return envelope and instructions.

Electoral officials began preparing for a pandemic election in April and surveyed likely voters on their mail-in voting intentions in May and August, according to Elections BC.

In-person voting

Voters preferring to cast a ballot in person will be allowed to vote at any polling station they choose, but are encouraged to still vote at their local polling place, if possible.

Early voting stations will be open for seven days instead of the six days allotted in 2017, to allow more time during the pandemic. Advance polling stations will be open from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21.

Polling places will adhere to capacity limits and electoral officials will be required to wear masks and other personal protective equipment. The number of election scrutineers and candidate representatives inside polling stations will also be limited.

Instead of signing a form to validate eligibility to vote, voters will be asked to affirm their voting eligibility status verbally and continue to wear a face mask while inside.

In-person voters will be asked to sanitize their hands before and after casting a ballot and will not be allowed to touch the ballot boxes. Voters will be permitted to bring their own pencil to fill out the ballot if they prefer.

While schools remain a crucial polling location in communities across B.C., schools will only be used as polling stations when students are not inside.

Elections BC says schools will be used on weekend days during early voting and on election day. Schools will be thoroughly cleaned before and after use, Boegman said.

All general polling stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 24.