British Columbia

Indigenous communities embrace electronic voting to elect tribal leader

Indigenous voters can vote by telephone today during Thursday's election for a new tribal chief in northern B.C.

7 northern communities can vote by telephone, internet or ballot

An online voting screen is pictured during a 2018 election in Ontario. Some people believe electronic voting technology will cut the costs of band elections in B.C. and encourage more people to vote. (Erik White/CBC )

Some Indigenous voters will use their smartphones or landline telephones to elect a new tribal chief in northern B.C. Thursday.

They are embracing electronic voting technology that some believe will cut the costs of band elections and encourage more people to vote.

"Phone voting is becoming a very popular alternative," said Graeme Drew, the chief electoral officer for Thursday's vote to elect a new Carrier Sekani tribal chief. "It's as simple as telephone banking and it takes about 45 seconds." 

Drew says telephone voting is accessible to people in remote communities, even without internet or cell service or polling stations.

Could save tens of thousands in costs

David Luggi is a former Carrier Sekani tribal chief who voted online in the advance polls.

He believes electronic voting will improve voter turnout. "The prospect of voting online or by telephone reaches out to the urban Carrier Sekanni [members], the 60 per cent that live out of the [traditional] communities," said Luggi.

The chief electoral officer says he's provided telephone voting in 25 elections, and many Indigenous communities are embracing it.

"I run elections all over Western and Northern Canada primarily for Indigenous communities," said Drew. "And they seem a lot more inclined and interested in integrating new technology, especially when it could save them tens of thousands of dollars in some cases to run elections like this [Carrier Sekani] one, in so many different locations."

"I think you're going to see more and more of it," said Drew. "I think it's it's an exciting new way to evolve democracy and to improve the ability for elections to be run fairly and cost-effectively.

In addition to telephone and online voting, Thursday's Carrier Sekani election includes traditional polling stations set up in eight different communities, including Prince George.

Telephone voting has been used widely in municipal elections and plebiscites in Atlantic Canada and Ontario. 

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.