Online voting in N.W.T. election questioned as recounts set to take place

A judicial recount has been called for results in Yellowknife’s Frame Lake riding and Yellowknife North. The territory's chief electoral officer said she's confident in the online voting system.

Territory's chief electoral officer says she's confident in the online voting system

Dave Ramsay, who was a candidate in the Frame Lake riding, says discrepancies between polling day and next-day vote counts raise concerns about how online ballots will be scrutinized in the judicial recounts. (John Last/CBC)

With two recounts set to take place in the next 10 days, one candidate in Tuesday's Northwest Territories election says he has some concerns with how online votes will be recounted.

Under the Elections and Plebiscite Act of the Northwest Territories, races that won with a margin of less than two per cent must have judicial recounts within 10 days of the official results being released. That means ballots cast in the Frame Lake and Yellowknife North ridings will all need to be recounted by a judge. 

Rylund Johnson won in Yellowknife North by just five votes over incumbent Cory Vanthuyne. Johnson got 501 votes; Vanthuyne received 496.

In Yellowknife's Frame Lake riding, incumbent Kevin O'Reilly won by a slim margin with 357 votes. The riding's only other candidate, former minister Dave Ramsay, received 346 votes.

Ramsay told CBC News Wednesday that he has already seen discrepancies between unofficial numbers reported by Elections NWT Tuesday evening and numbers reported Wednesday morning after returning officers double-checked the polls. 

"[Tuesday] night they had Kevin at 357, but when we did the tally in the office today that came down to 355. So there were some discrepancies. The numbers weren't accurate last night," Ramsay said. 

Rylund Johnson on the campaign trail in Yellowknife. He won his seat by just five votes. (John Last/CBC)

'You won't have real ballots to count'

Ramsay says those discrepancies have raised some concerns about how online ballots will be scrutinized in the judicial recounts. This election was the first provincial or territorial election in which residents could cast their ballots online. 

"The judge ... won't have real ballots to count," Ramsay said. "They'll just have to take the votes that come in online as legitimate votes. I don't know how a judge is going to verify that everything is legit."

"I do have some issues with this because it's our first time through it."

'You won’t have real ballots to count. The judge...won’t have real ballots to count,' Ramsay said. Still, he doesn't believe his race will come down to online ballots. (Submitted)

Elections NWT confirmed that some numbers in the Frame Lake polls were tallied incorrectly Tuesday night, but were corrected on Wednesday. Those were human errors. Elections NWT says there is still an 11-vote difference between O'Reilly and Ramsay. 

Ramsay has yet to concede the election. 

"I wasn't ready to concede last night because we saw some discrepancies. I've seen it in the past when a candidate is declared a winner and then we see some more ballots come in and it's overturned," said Ramsay.

Kevin O'Reilly says he has no concerns with how online ballots will be recounted. Johnson, MLA-elect in Yellowknife North, also said he has no concerns about the online voting system. Cory Vanthuyne could not be reached for comment.

Online voting systems have been used dozens of times in Canada in the past, in municipal elections and provincial plebiscites. Before Tuesday's election, several experts in online voting raised concerns about the system being used in a territorial race.

I wasn't ready to concede last night because we saw some discrepancies.- Dave Ramsay, candidate in Frame Lake 


The territory's chief electoral officer, Nicole Latour, says she is confident the election results won't be overturned, especially in Frame Lake.

"When you're not successful, you're looking at a number of different reasons to try and figure out why that happened," she said.  

"Eleven votes is a lot of ground to make up. I can't imagine that 11 votes were miscounted or that some need to be rejected. You'll have to essentially find 11 errors and I have a lot of confidence in my office.

"It may change one or two votes but I don't think it will reverse the unofficial results."

The 2019 N.W.T. election was the first territorial or provincial election in which voters could cast ballots online. (Hilary Bird/CBC )

When asked if she thinks candidates will challenge the transparency of online ballots in court, Latour said no. 

While Ramsay says he still has concerns, he doesn't think his race will come down to online ballots.

"I'm looking forward to just putting it to rest. We'll see. That's why they have recounts," Ramsay said.

"Once it is official, I'll be the first guy to congratulate Kevin on his campaign and wish him well."

Latour says Elections NWT is preparing paperwork for the recounts and will hopefully have it submitted to the Northwest Territories Supreme Court by 4 p.m. Wednesday. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?