North

Voting in the N.W.T. is about to become easier

New website, and online absentee voting could improve voter turnout in the coming fall territorial election, says the territory's chief electoral officer.

Online absentee ballots, longer absentee voting period could boost turnout, says chief electoral officer

Nicole Latour, the N.W.T.'s chief electoral officer, told MLAs at a 2017 committee meeting that bank account requirements place candidates in 11 communities in the territory — where there are no banking institutions — at a disadvantage when it comes to following campaign rules. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Voters in the coming Northwest Territories election will have more options than ever to cast their ballot, says the territory's chief electoral officer.

After the last election, Nicole Latour made recommendations to improve voting access and break down barriers for candidates in small communities. 

The residency requirement for voting has been lowered from one year to six months of consecutive residency before polling day. The move brings the territory in line with all of Canada's provinces and territories, except Nunavut where voters need a year of residency, said Latour.   

After the last N.W.T. election, Latour recommended election day be held on a weekend and also, online.

Latour got one of those wishes: voters can register to make an absentee vote by online ballot starting Aug. 19. But if a voter wants to use an online ballot, that intention must be registered between Aug. 19 and Sept. 21. A voter can't decide on voting day to vote online.

Voting in the office of the returning officer is runs until Sept. 29.

Weekends are the most popular preference for an election day across the world, she said.

"Sunday is the most popular day to have election in the world. Saturday is the second one. So why is ours on Tuesday?" said Latour.

In the 2015 N.W.T. election, 44 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot. Out of more than 28,000 registered electors, only 12,707 voted, according to the Elections NWT website. 

"It just seems that the electorates want more time," said Latour. "They need to have that flex [rather] than being just pigeonholed to that one day."

Chief electoral officer Nicole Latour hopes a public information campaign will drive better voter turnout in the coming territorial election. (Avery Zingel)

Website to help public navigate voting options

In July, a comprehensive website — electorhood.ca — goes live.

It offers candidate information, voting opportunities in a district, who the returning officer is and notification if a candidate is acclaimed.

Voters and campaigners can track voter turnout in real time. By 8 p.m. on Oct. 1, they will have access to early poll-results.

The website will show the absentee ballot results after polls close. The results are unofficial until the physical election-day ballots are counted.

The N.W.T. chief electoral officer is also planning public outreach and a youth ambassador program to encourage better voter turnout.

Banking barriers axed

There are also changes to remove barriers for candidates living in N.W.T. communities without chartered banks or "suitable institutions" for providing accounting statements of election and campaign contributions and expenses.

Norman Wells, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith are the only communities with chartered banks, Latour's recommendations say.

Latour told MLAs in 2017 the rule made it difficult for candidates outside these communities to follow campaign contribution rules.

In the 2019 election, candidates can track their own campaign contributions and spending and provide that information. 

"I think that's going to be a really welcomed by some of the people in the smaller communities," said Latour. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story identified absentee period as longer. In fact, the period to vote at the office of the returning officer is longer.
    May 17, 2019 10:03 AM CT

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