Fort Resolution man fears mail-in byelection will affect voter turnout, confidence

Robert Sayine says the lack of signatures and other ballot errors are a sign that a mail-in only vote was not the right decision for the communities in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. Elections NWT says its working to address the problems.

Elections NWT says criticism is valid, steps taken to ensure voter turnout

An election worker marks a sample ballot, like the ones voters received in the mail for the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh byelection. (Kaicheng Xin/CBC)

A Fort Resolution man is concerned that problems Elections NWT is having with ballot packages in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh will have an impact on voter turn-out and confidence in the byelection results. 

Robert Sayine heard the news last week that 10 per cent of the first 130 ballot packages returned in the byelection lacked a required signature on the Absentee Ballot Certificate.

Sayine said the lack of signatures and other errors on the voter certification envelope are a sign that a mail-in only vote was not the right decision for the communities. 

The Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh constituency includes Fort Resolution, Łutselk'e, Ndilǫ and Dettah.

Sayine, who is a former MLA and past chief of the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation, said the problem is that most people aren't used to voting by mail.

"Mail-in ballots involve filling out forms and, you know, especially elders like me… a lot of people on that voting list are elders that don't really know how to do this," Sayine told Trail's End host Lawrence Nayally on Monday.

Sayine also said he's concerned that it leaves the election open to voter fraud.

'Perfectly valid concerns'

When the mail-in only election was announced, Chief Electoral Officer Stephen Dunbar said it was a way to ensure people's ability to vote wasn't affected by a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Robert Sayine in 2019. The former MLA says voting by mail is new to many people in his community and would explain why many voter certificate envelopes were returned unsigned. (Mark Hadlari/CBC)
That was a concern for some communities in the N.W.T. during the federal election last fall.

But Dunbar said Sayine raises "perfectly valid concerns" about the mail-in process being new to people. 

He said they made the decision to hold a mail-in election under time constraints, amid a lot of uncertainty about how the Omicron variant would affect the territory. 

"We had about three weeks before the Christmas holidays that we were trying to pull everything together, and in that time we had a fair amount of flux with the COVID situation and not a lot of certainty about what this was going to mean."

As of Tuesday, Dunbar said they had received 230 mail-in ballot packages. In the last general election 527 people voted in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, and Dunbar said turnout is generally lower in byelections.

He said that's why Elections NWT mailed out ballot packages to every voter at the start of the election period, instead of waiting for people to apply. It's also why he sent the directive last week asking his staff to contact voters who submitted ballots with errors and take steps to correct them. 

"We reviewed the act. We reviewed procedures used in other jurisdictions and we spoke with some lawyers. And that's when we decided that we would send out the ballots to our election workers that had not been signed to try and get a signature on those so they'd be able to be counted." 

Ballots to be counted in front of candidates

As for voter fraud, Dunbar said all mail-in ballot packages have the ballot inside the sealed voter certificate envelope. He said both the certificate envelope and the ballot inside will be opened and counted in front of all the candidates or their representatives on Feb. 9, the day after the poll officially closes. 

"And they can see that this person, [whose ballot has] their name and their signature on it, was able to cast a vote," said Dunbar. 

He asked people who are concerned they may not have signed their ballot properly to contact Elections NWT.

Criticism and feedback from people like Sayine are important, Dunbar said, "so that we can start that planning for the 2023 election."

"I really hope the pandemic will be over by then." 

Sayine said he understands the need for the mail-in election, but says the communities should have been consulted before Elections NWT made the decision to go with a mail-in ballot-only election. 

"It would have been better if they still had a walk-in voting booth, you know, for folks that were vaccinated and just made extra precautions for those that weren't vaccinated," he said.

Sayine said he wants to make sure his "one vote" counts and he's encouraging others in Tu Nedhé to do the same.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Robert Sayine as a Fort Providence man. In fact he is from Fort Resolution.
    Feb 02, 2022 6:37 PM CT

Written by Joanne Stassen with files from Lawrence Nayally