VICTORIA -- Hundreds of military members deployed at sea will be able to phone in their votes in the upcoming British Columbia election, marking a first for the Canadian Armed Forces in the province.

Approximately 225 sailors and a Cyclone helicopter air detachment left Vancouver Island in July aboard the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg.

The warship and its crew attended Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in Hawaii before embarking on a pair of months-long security operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

While mail-in voting is routine for military members serving outside their home province or overseas, the Winnipeg’s deployment in the East China Sea region, and the speed at which the Oct. 24 snap election was called, raised special challenges for election officials.

“This is the first time assisted telephone voting has been used by deployed members of the military to vote in a provincial election in B.C.,” said Elections BC spokesperson Andrew Watson.

“After the election call, our military contacts informed us that the HMCS Winnipeg was deployed to a location that would prevent sailors aboard from voting by mail within the election period,” Watson added. “As a result, we extended the opportunity of assisted telephone voting to them.”

Crew members were notified of the special allowance on Friday.

“To the best of our knowledge this is a first,” said National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande, adding the department “can’t say for sure whether telephone voting has been used before for other provincial elections.”

Forty-five sailors aboard the Winnipeg had already cast votes over the phone by Thursday. 

“While this is below the normal provincial average based on the last election, with over a week until the election remaining, many of the sailors may be still weighing their options following the recent debate,” said Maritime Forces Pacific Cmdr. Tyson Bergmann.

“With a fixed-date election, they can normally issue voting packages 30 days before the writ is dropped, facilitating the mail-in voting process,” Bergmann added.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan skirted the province's fixed-election date law when he called the snap election in September.

Telephone voting is typically available only to a select group of voters who cannot vote by other means, according to Elections BC. That group includes voters with severe vision loss, disabilities or underlying health conditions which would prevent them from voting otherwise.

Election officials say they have developed a procedure to ensure voting by phone is as private and secure as going to the polls in person.

The procedure includes verifying a caller’s identity and voter eligibility before transferring the call to an election official who does not know the caller’s identity. That official then marks a paper ballot on the voter’s behalf while a second official, who also does not know the caller’s identity, monitors the call and ensures the vote is cast appropriately.

HMCS Winnipeg will remain in the East China Sea to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea until the end of October, when it will join American, Japanese and Australian forces for Operation Keen Sword exercises off Japan.

The ship will then return to the East China Sea in November for more sanctions monitoring activities before returning home to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.