General local elections process

Local governments are required to follow a legislated process when conducting general local elections and by-elections to fill vacancies on municipal councils and regional district boards between general local elections.

The major elements of the local elections process include:

  • Determining a person's eligibility to run for office
  • Making the call for nominations and managing challenges to a candidate nomination
  • Election campaigning
  • Arranging voting opportunities for electors
  • Counting ballots
  • Announcing the election results
  • Breaking ties
  • Administering the Oath of Office
  • Taking office
  • Filing campaign financing disclosure statements

On this page: 

Local government election bylaw

The legislation establishes many standard rules that apply to all local elections in B.C. At the same time, local governments are able to adopt election bylaws and make decisions about how to administer some aspects of local elections in a way that best suits local circumstances, including whether:

  • Voting machines will be used, and if so, the procedures that will govern their use
  • Mail ballot voting will be used, and if so, the procedures that will govern its use
  • Additional advance voting opportunities will be offered, or, in communities of less than 5,000, whether the required additional advance voting opportunity will be waived
  • Voter registration will be conducted both on voting day and in advance or on voting day only
  • Nomination deposits will be required
  • How ties between two or more candidates will be broken

An election bylaw must be adopted by a local government at least 56 days before the first day of the nomination period in a general local election or 42 days before the first day of the nomination period in a by-election.

Eligibility to run for office

A person may become a candidate in a local election as long as they have not been disqualified from seeking or holding elected office. A candidate for municipal mayor and councillor, regional district electoral area director, school trustee for boards of education, trustee for the Islands Trust, local community commissioner or specified parks board commissioner must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older on general voting day
  • Be a Canadian citizen
  • Have been a resident of B.C. for at least six months immediately prior to filing nomination documents
  • Not be disqualified under the Local Government Act or any other enactment from voting in an election in B.C. or from being nominated for, being elected to or holding office, or be otherwise disqualified by law
  • Learn more about responsible conduct and expectations of B.C.’s locally elected officials.

Nomination period and declaring candidates

The nomination period is the only time during the election process when the Chief Election Officer can accept nomination documents and nomination deposits (where applicable) from people who want to run for elected office. A nominee officially becomes a candidate when they have submitted all the required information in the nomination package and have been declared a candidate by the Chief Election Officer.

Who may nominate

Each candidate must be nominated by at least two eligible electors from the jurisdiction where the candidate is seeking to be elected. Some local governments may require in their election bylaw 10, or  25 nominators, for each prospective candidate.

A nominator must be eligible to vote in the election area as a resident elector or as a non-resident property elector in order to nominate a candidate for office.

Nomination documents and deposits

Nomination documents are generally available from local government offices during regular business hours two to four weeks before the nomination period begins and remain available until the nomination period ends. Nomination documents must be submitted to the Chief Election Officer or their designate.

Local governments may require prospective candidates to pay a refundable nomination deposit of up to $100 when they submit their nomination documents - the deposits are fully refunded when the candidate files their campaign financing disclosure statement with Elections BC.

Challenging a nomination

An eligible elector, another nominee for office or the Chief Election Officer can challenge a prospective candidate’s nomination if they believe the nomination documents are incorrect or the person is not otherwise eligible to be nominated for office.

Nomination documents are available for public inspection in local government offices during regular office hours from the time they have been submitted until 30 days after the election results have been declared.

Election campaigns

An election campaign is a connected series of actions such as advertising, canvassing, holding meetings and giving speeches designed to elect a candidate or a group of candidates to elected office.

Voting opportunities

General voting day is usually the most publicized or widely-known voting opportunity resident and non-resident property electors have to cast their ballot in a local election. Local governments must also hold at least one advance voting opportunity. Electors may also be able to vote at a special voting opportunity or by-mail ballot voting.

Many local governments offer additional advance voting opportunities. Local governments set out in their election bylaw if additional advance voting opportunities will be offered, or the specific dates, times and locations where special voting will take place during local elections.

Counting ballots

Ballot counting begins after voting places close at 8:00 pm local time. The majority of ballots cast by eligible electors determine the successful candidate for a given office. Candidates are entitled to be present during the ballot count and may assign one representative (scrutineer or official agent) to each location where ballot counting takes place. Each candidate is notified by the Chief Election Officer as to the time and location for the final ballot count.

Announcing election results

The official election results may not necessarily be announced on general voting day—the Chief Election Officer may announce preliminary results after concluding the ballot count on general voting day and announce the official results at a later date.

The official election results must be declared within four days after the close of voting on general voting day. The Chief Election Officer must state the number of ballots cast in favour of each candidate for each position.

Most local governments post election results on their websites and election results are also posted at CivicInfoBC.

Judicial recount

An eligible elector, candidate, candidate representative (for example, a scrutineer or official agent), or the Chief Election Officer, may apply to the Provincial Court for a judicial recount. An application for a judicial recount can only proceed on the basis that the:

  • Ballots were incorrectly accepted or rejected
  • Ballot account does not accurately record the number of valid votes for a candidate
  • Final determination of results did not correctly calculate the total number of valid votes for a candidate
  • Same number of votes were received by two or more candidates

The period to apply for a judicial recount begins as soon as the official election results have been declared and ends nine days after the close of general voting. The Provincial Court declares the election results at the completion of the ballot recount.

Breaking ties

A tie between two or more candidates must be broken in accordance with the Local Government Act or Vancouver Charter (in the City of Vancouver) and the local government election bylaw. A tie may be broken by drawing by lot (a random draw) or by runoff election. A local government's election bylaw must specify that drawing by lot will be used as the method for breaking a tie between candidates—otherwise, a runoff election must be held to break the tie.

A runoff election means that all unsuccessful candidates from the original election may run in a second election. The runoff election can only be held after a judicial recount in which no winner was declared. Generally, runoff elections are conducted under the same rules as the original local election.

Invalid election

A candidate, the Chief Election Officer, or at least four eligible electors of the jurisdiction may petition the Supreme Court to invalidate a local election. A petition to invalidate a local election may only be made on the basis that:

  • An elected candidate was not qualified to hold office
  • The election was not conducted in accordance with elections legislation or
  • A candidate committed an election offence such as vote-buying or intimidation during the local election

A petition to invalidate a local election must be made within 30 days after the official election results were declared.

Oath of office or affirmation

Every municipal councillor and electoral area director must make an oath of office or solemn affirmation before they can assume their position on municipal council or the regional district board, respectively.

Municipal councillors appointed to the regional district board must make a second oath or solemn affirmation in addition to the one they made before they assumed their position on the municipal council.

The oath of office or solemn affirmation may be made before a judge, justice of the peace, or a Commissioner for Taking Affidavits for B.C., such as a lawyer or the local government Corporate Officer. Candidates who fail to make an oath or affirmation of office within the required timeframe are disqualified from holding office until after the next general local election.

Taking office

Municipal councillor

A candidate may take the oath office or solemn affirmation as soon as they are declared elected by the Chief Election Officer; however, municipal councillors formally take office at the first regularly scheduled council meeting following the general local election. The term of office for a municipal council member appointed to a regional district board begins when the person has made an oath or solemn affirmation as a regional district director.

Electoral area director

The term of office for regional district electoral area directors begins at the first regularly scheduled board meeting in the calendar month after the month in which general local elections were held.

Local election rules and offences

Rules regarding the conduct of general local elections and by-elections ensure that they are open and transparent. These rules are established in the Local Government Act, the Vancouver Charter (for the City of Vancouver), the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, the Community Charter, the School Act and the Offence Act. The Local Government Act and Local Elections Campaign Financing Act also set out provisions related to election offences and penalties.

Campaign financing 

Campaign financing and election advertising rules

Campaign financing and advertising rules under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act create accountability and transparency around campaign contributions received and election expenses incurred during general local elections, by-elections and assent voting events.

Campaign financing offences and penalties

The Local Elections Campaign Financing Act sets out campaign financing and advertising offences and resulting penalties that may be imposed on candidates, elector organizations and third party sponsors if they do not comply with the rules.

Local elections legislation