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Elections Yukon prepping for thousands of special ballots, new box in next election

Yukoners will be in for several changes in the territory's next general election, including how and where they can vote. The election must called this year.

All eligible voters will now be able to vote by special ballot if they wish

The Yukon coat of arms attached to the Yukon legislative building in Whitehorse. The next territorial election will be called sometime in 2021. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Yukoners will be in for several changes in the territory's next general election, including how and where they can vote.

All residents eligible to vote, known as electors, will be able to do so by special ballot, something previously restricted to people in certain situations, according to Maxwell Harvey, Yukon's chief electoral officer.

"For many, it's a new convenience that they may not have explored," he said.

"It is a key voting option that people have, beyond the advance poll and the ordinary poll on polling day."

Voting by special ballot can be done by sending the ballot by mail to the Elections Yukon headquarters in Whitehorse or by dropping it off at the individual's designated returning office.

Maxwell Harvey is Yukon's chief electoral officer. (Steve Silva/CBC)

A special ballot is enclosed in a secrecy envelope which is then enclosed in a certification envelope. Special ballots will remain sealed and be left in a box until election day.

In the 2016 Yukon election, 1,239 people voted that way, which made up 6.58 per cent of all votes cast, according to a report by Harvey's predecessor.

Harvey said, based on voting trends in recent COVID-19-pandemic-era elections in Canada, among other reasons, the organization is planning for as many as 6,000 votes by special ballot.

Special ballots could be counted before polls close

Despite the potential increase, there shouldn't be a days-long counting process similar to what has happened in other jurisdictions in 2020, he said.

During the election period, Elections Yukon will monitor the number of special ballots it receives each day and the number of electors who have applied for special ballots; staffing levels will be adjusted accordingly, Harvey said.

"If necessary, we'll start counting those ballots before the actual close of polls, with sequestered teams" on election day, he added.

Harvey said all unofficial results should be available the night of the election.

Elections Yukon has been in discussions with Canada Post about more ballots being delivered by mail, and the company would be able to "easily handle" thousands more ballots sent by mail, he said.

Harvey also noted that those ballots would come in over several weeks, not at all once.

Elections Yukon is also looking into setting up a secure drop box of some sort outside of the Yukon legislative building a few days before election day or perhaps the entire electoral period, for people to drop in their special ballots at any hour.

In 2016, there were 362 votes cast by proxy, an option that will no longer be available in future elections, Harvey said.

As for people voting at a polling station on election day, Harvey said that the usual COVID-19 precautions will be in place: more sanitizing, physical distancing, an in-door and out-door at some buildings for one-way traffic, and mask usage by election officials.

As for how plans may change if most voting-age Yukoners are vaccinated before the next election, he said that's something the organization will deal with then.

The election must be called by Nov. 18, 2021.

Voter registration can be done online

In a first for the territory, people can now register online, something he said will streamline the process.

Before, a big portion of registration was done by enumeration, a process that entails visiting homes, before each election, to determine the number of electors and where they live.

Harvey said targeted enumeration will happen in the future but only in a few areas, including new developments.

Going forward, Elections Yukon can get some data from some public bodies, including Elections Canada and several Yukon government departments, to update addresses of people who have already registered, he said. 

Elections Yukon is looking into setting up a secure drop box of some sort for ballots, outside of the Yukon legislative building in Whitehorse. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Yukon is the last jurisdiction in Canada to switch from enumeration to a permanent register, Harvey said.

The hope is to increase the list from about 82-84 per cent of all eligible voters in the territory to 92-95 per cent, he said.

That increase can help better represent the portion of the population that votes.

Based on Harvey's explanation, if only 10 people registered to vote and they all did vote, Yukon would have a 100 per cent voter turnout, despite tens of thousands of people not voting.

There will be an estimated 4,000 more people eligible to vote in next general election, he said.

Harvey said, despite the new measures, he expects the election to cost about the same amount as the last one, in part because of the aformentioned streamlined processes.

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