Although some voters may not be able to reach the polls on Monday due to isolation, Elections Canada has plans in place to ensure that those who can cast a ballot can do so efficiently and safely.
Leanne Tait, NWT returning officer for Elections Canada, said all 93 polls will be open across the territory and people will be able to vote for their chosen politician, unless something unexpected happens.
“The only concern I have is if there is a new public health order between now and election day that we haven’t already got a plan in place for,” she said.
In areas where there’s high risk for spread, such as the outbreak communities in the North Slave, she has been working closely with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer to make sure conditions are safe.
“We had to make some adjustments as we learned and worked with public health officials,” she said of the campaign period.
CPHO Dr. Kami Kandola prescribed a limit of 25 people for indoor gatherings for two weeks in communities affected by an outbreak, starting on Sept. 8.
“In Behchoko, for example, which is under a containment order, we worked closely with public health to identify a plan that limits the number of people who can be within a polling place at one time,” said Tait.
In Yellowknife, Tait said some polling stations have been made larger to increase safety while others have seen added restrictions on the number of people in a facility at a time.
“It may happen that people do have to wait a bit longer in a lineup because we are only dealing with a small number in a facility at a time,” she acknowledged, adding that she has applied for variances under public health restrictions in some instances. “In Behchoko, we will have three polls in the community arena and at each of the three polls, we can have 15 electors, plus our staff. The CPHO looks at the site plan, our COVID mitigation strategies and how far apart people will be and comes up with a number they are comfortable with.”
Voters heading to the polls are asked to take safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. There will be hand sanitizer available and people should be prepared to provide personal information for contract tracing purposes.
Some Northerners have contacted NNSL Media this week to express concern about a potential lack of access to voting.
Velma Delorme, a Fort Resolution resident, said that a person in her community resigned last minute from overseeing the polls at the hamlet’s community hall to take another job. She was worried that Elections Canada might not have plans for Fort Resolution voters.
But Tait said that Fort Resolution will have a poll open on Monday and that there are always backup plans in the instance that poll workers can’t fulfill their commitments.
“We have arranged for a polling place, recruited poll workers, sent materials out and have been in contact with people running polls, and so there are no issues that I am aware of in Fort Resolution,” she said.
Tait added that it isn’t uncommon for plans to fall through for scheduled poll workers or for last-minute changes to take place.
“There are people who are resigning because they have been put into isolation, or who have taken another job, or have other commitments or whatever,” she said. “We have built that into our planning and we have a model which puts a minimum of four people into a polling place.”
She added that her proactive planning also includes the ability to staff a poll station with a minimum of two people and that there have been “standby” or backup poll workers who have been recruited in all communities.
“We know these things happen and so we have plans in place to deal with those inevitable last-minute changes as they happen,” she said.