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Yukon's election is a tie. What happens now?

Yukon’s nail-biter election ended with two parties claiming eight seats each and a tie in Vuntut Gwitchin that could decide the final result. Here’s what happens next.

It could involve a drawing of lots, says former Yukon legislative assembly clerk Floyd McCormick

A voter heads to the polls in Monday's election in Yukon. The result saw a tie in one riding that could determine the Liberal Party's path to a minority government. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon's nail-biter election night is over, but the final result is anything but clear.

After hard-fought campaigns, Currie Dixon's Yukon Party and Sandy Silver's Liberal Party both ended the night with eight seats. Kate White's NDP claimed just two.

The final seat, in Vuntut Gwitchin, appeared to be an even split between Liberal cabinet minister Pauline Frost and the NDP's Annie Blake. Monday's results showed each with 78 votes.

So what happens now? CBC's Yukon Morning spoke to Floyd McCormick, a former clerk of the legislative assembly, to find out.

Floyd McCormick was clerk of the Yukon Legislature from 2007 to 2019. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

First, a recount

Yukon elections law requires that any election that comes within 10 votes triggers an automatic judicial recount.

Once the "official addition" happens on Thursday, if there's a tie or a vote-spread of less than 10, an application for a recount will go before a judge.  An actual recount of ballots would then need to happen by Monday.

If there was an error, it's possible ballot counters would find it on Thursday and be able to declare a clear winner.

"Sometime on Thursday, we'll find out," said McCormick. "Either the count delivered on election night was not accurate — somebody has actually won — or there will have to be some kind of drawing of lots."

Next, a lucky draw

Yukon's elections law clearly states that in the event of a tie, the result "shall be decided immediately by the drawing of lots by the returning officer."

The draw must be held "in the presence" of the judge who did the recount and any candidate or representative present at the time.

McCormick notes the "receptacle" is not specified — hats, bins, and raffle drums are all acceptable options. 

Vuntut Gwitchin, the smallest riding in the Yukon by population, has seen close elections before, including a tie in 1996. (CBC)

Has this ever happened before?

It would be unusual to see a vote come down to a random draw almost anywhere in Canada, but it's not unprecedented in Yukon.

In 2018's municipal elections, the mayor of Faro was chosen by random draw after a tie between Leonard Faber and incumbent mayor Jack Bowers. In the end, Faber unseated Bowers.

It has even happened in Vuntut Gwitchin, Yukon's least-populated riding, once before. In 1996, a tie between the NDP's Robert Bruce and the Yukon Party's Esau Schafer resulted in a random draw.

"It ended up being a much longer story than that," said McCormick, "because Mr. Schafer contested the results of the election based on the fact that … there were ineligible people on the electors list."

The judge eventually sided with Schafer and Bruce's election was voided, but not before he was elected as Speaker of the legislature. It wasn't until a by-election the following year that the matter was settled — with a resounding victory for Bruce.

What does this mean for the government?

While electoral ties may be old hat in Yukon, it's not often that the overall outcome is also so close.

A win for Frost in Vuntut Gwitchin would give the Liberals nine seats to the Yukon Party's eight and the NDP's two. A loss would mean a tie between the Liberals and the Yukon Party at eight seats each.

McCormick says even then, Sandy Silver's Liberals will get the first chance to form a government.

"Given that they are the government right now, I would expect that they will continue as government, even after this is determined on Thursday," he said.

The Yukon legislative assembly in 2017. As the incumbents, the Liberals will have the first shot at forming a government, regardless of the outcome in Vuntut Gwitchin. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

That doesn't necessarily mean a coalition with one of the opposition parties.

"In a coalition government, you would have members of both parties sitting in cabinet, which is not generally the way these things go," he said.

Instead, they could opt for "some sort of agreement … about what kinds of bills and policies the government will bring forward," or simply win support on a "vote-by-vote basis."

Either way, with a minority of the assembly's 19 seats, they can't govern alone.

There is, of course, the chance that no party can form a government, and voters head back to the polls.

But McCormick says, even amid all this uncertainty, one thing is clear:

"I don't think any one of them wants to go back on the hustings anytime soon."

With files from Elyn Jones