The byelection for Tu Nedhe Wiilideh began with the issuing of the writ on Jan. 10 and Elections NWT says there has been a special amount of work to ensure the race takes place fairly and properly.

Election day is Feb. 8 with polls closing at 8 p.m. and will be done entirely by mail-in ballot due to public health concerns surrounding Covid-19.

Steve Norn and Nadine Delorme-Simon were the only candidates as of Jan. 10 to put their names forward.

To date there has been little precedent for mail-in voting in the Northwest Territories, but Elections NWT says the risks were too great to hold in-person votes in the district.

“In the event of a Covid outbreak mid-election, we would have had to request the Commissioner to cancel the Writ of Election Order, and issue a new one a few months later,” explained Chief Electoral Officer Stephen Dunbar in a Jan. 7 email. “This was a major factor in the decision to move proactively to a mail-in format, after the Omicron variant was starting to take off in the south, and the first case had been detected in the NWT.”

Some recent examples in the NWT of mail-in votes that have taken place have included a City of Yellowknife borrowing plebiscite for its aquatic centre and the Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief election. Newfoundland and Labrador also held a provincial election where it had to shift to mail-in ballot last February.

However these don’t translate into examples that can be copied due to strict NWT legislation.

Among them include the inability to extend the election date, as the Tłı̨cho government was able to do for two months.

“There are legislated requirements that Elections NWT must follow when conducting an election, which limits implementing some of the lessons learned from other jurisdictions and organizations,” Dunbar said.

“If we had to move to mail-in ballots mid-election, it’s quite possible that many electors would not have received their ballots with enough time to return them by Feb. 8.”

Dunbar said that his office has had to prepare to a greater extent than he would have for a regular byelection.

“Because we are proactively mailing out ballots to all registered electors in Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, there is substantially more preparation being done by Elections NWT,” he said, noting the need to assemble more than 800 mail out packages to registered voters in the district.

Each voter will get an envelope with a ballot, a privacy ballot to put their ballot in, an absentee ballot certification envelope where a privacy ballot is placed and a pre-addressed and stamped return envelope to send to Elections NWT.

Hired returning officer help

The electoral agency also had to hire people to ensure voters are able to get their votes counted.

“We have also hired additional assistant returning officers (AAROs) in Łutselk’e and Fort Resolution who can respond to any questions electors have in those communities,” Dunbar said.

Jeanette Lockhart was hired for Łutselk’e and Lorraine Villeneuve for Fort Resolution.

“The AAROs can also pick up the completed ballot package from voters,” Dunbar said.

“This will be especially important if a voter doesn’t cast their vote until close to polling day.

Dunbar said he is concerned about the lack of mailboxes in the electoral district and is advising voters to keep in contact with assistant registered officers. To address the shortage of mailboxes, all assistant returning officers will be taking completed ballot packages that haven’t been mailed to Elections NWT on Feb. 8. .

“We encourage any voters who cast their votes after Jan. 28 to consider contacting their AARO on the best way to get it to Elections NWT before Feb. 8,” he said.

“If an elector waits until Feb. 6 or 7 to cast their vote, there would not be enough time for Canada Post to return that package to Elections NWT by Feb. 8. This is why the AAROs will be bringing all completed ballot packages submitted to them to Elections NWT during the day of Feb. 8.”

Voters in Dettah and N’dilo, the two Yellowknives Dene First Nation communities, will be able to drop off their completed ballots to the returning officer on the first floor of the Deton Cho building in Ndilǫ.

They can also drop a ballot off at the Elections NWT office on the third floor of Yk Centre East.

Counting the votes

Dunbar said that the voting process for mail-in ballots involves Elections NWT receiving each package. The absentee ballot certificate envelope of that package is scanned and entered into the system and the voters name is marked as having voted as long as it is signed and dated by the elector.

“The envelope will then be opened and the privacy envelope containing the ballot will be placed in the appropriate poll’s ballot box,” he said.

“The privacy envelope will not be opened until the ballot box is opened for counting after 8pm on February 8th. This ensures that no one will know how any elector voted.”

Residents with questions about the voting process are asked to email the returning office at RO_TuNedheWiilideh@electionsnwt.ca.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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