Move N.W.T. voting online, away from weekdays and out of the cold, says report

The next N.W.T. election could be held on a warm weekend instead of October or November if a new report’s recommendations are passed, with online voting also being considered.

Chief electoral officer also recommends dropping polling-day liquor sales prohibition

N.W.T. chief electoral officer Nicole Latour says a Saturday election day makes sense 'for the primary reason of convenience for the electorate to attend the poll at any time,' which should boost declining turnout. (CBC)

When the next N.W.T. election rolls around, you might be able to cast your vote from your laptop on a spring Saturday — then head for the bar.

Last November, as usual, voters enjoyed none of the above. But steadily dipping turnout means the search is on for ways to make going to the polls more attractive.

In a new report, chief electoral officer Nicole Latour says avoiding weekdays and choosing a warmer month would be a start.

Latour says Saturday makes sense "for the primary reason of convenience for the electorate to attend the poll at any time," which should boost turnout if most voters do not have to work.

Saturdays will also allow schools to serve as polling stations without concern for the security of children, and will make it easier to recruit election workers with the right skills without disrupting their day jobs.

As for moving to the spring or summer, Latour says wintry campaigns can see candidates weathered-in, ballots delayed on their way to communities and people put off voting by the sheer cold outside.

Ballots arrive at the Yellowknife courthouse last November in preparation for a judicial recount of votes cast in the Nunakput, Range Lake and Yellowknife North ridings. Latour recommends holding elections in warmer seasons because during winter candidates can get weathered-in and ballots delayed on their way to communities. (Elections NWT)

But the most cutting-edge of the proposed changes is moving voting online. That approach has not yet been widely adopted in other jurisdictions, but Latour believes there is no reason why the territory should wait for others to try it first.

"I talk about leveraging technology now because if we don't, it will be 2023 if they don't take it up for the 2019 election," she said.

"People say it's not safe, they can get hacked. Maybe 10, 15 years ago there were some issues. But we really have to look at who would hack a territorial election and how obvious that would be — we're so small.

"In terms of the economics of it, it's really, really a sensible decision."

Another recommendation is to do away with the present liquor sales prohibition under which bars cannot serve alcohol and liquor stores can't sell any while the polls are open.

Latour says businesses have complained and there is "no real evidence" to suggest liquor sales would disrupt an election.

Among other changes, Latour also suggests a comprehensive updating of legislation governing N.W.T. elections. She would also like her office to assume control of the territory's municipal elections, saying it puts their expertise to better use while providing more experience for staff.

However, all of these recommendations must go before politicians in the legislature for approval before anything happens — and a green light is far from guaranteed. Last time around, a similar proposal to move the territorial election to a Saturday was rejected.


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