Elections NWT has received international recognition for Electorhood, its new online election engagement tool.
The International Centre for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS) recognized the website for outstanding achievement in the category of citizen engagement during the International Electoral Affairs Symposium in Accra, Ghana, in January.
The online project has been in the works for years, and the international recognition was a first for Elections NWT, said Nicole Latour, chief electoral officer for Elections NWT.
“I refer to it as an elector engagement tool but it’s a website technically,” said Latour.
The underlying goal of the site is to educate voters and prepare them ahead of the territorial election this fall, said Latour.
“The information that’s in Electorhood is stuff that you could probably find in a bunch of different locations like on our website or in written documents, and it brings it together as a really comprehensive one-stop shopping for the elector,” she said.
When users set up an account on the site, they fill out information including their email, community and address. The website will then tell them where their polling and voter registration stations are, who and where their returning officer is, notify them of acclamation and remind them of events like special voting opportunities and absentee ballot closing dates, all in one central location.
“It’s a unique profile to each elector based on their electoral district,” said Latour.
As candidates are nominated leading up to an election, their profiles will be added to the site.
“Our hope is to have them fill out a bio, a very short one, sort of who am I, what am I about and what am I going to do for you,” said Latour.
The site will also report election night results in real-time.
Administrators like Elections NWT have an election management system through which they can monitor everything going on during an election.
“The candidates and official agents had a real-time strike list last time and that gets refreshed every five minutes, so they know who’s going out and voting,” Latour explained.
“For me, the most important stakeholder is the elector, and there’s nothing for them. This tool addresses that because the single coolest thing about it is we’re going to report real-time turnout in percentage to the electors. So they’ll be able to see the movement of the event.”
Now that there’s an online balloting mechanism for absentee ballots, there will also be a portal for that on Electorhood. During the 2015 territorial general election, 53.7 per cent of voters in Hay River cast their ballot before the ordinary poll day. Election administrators across the country have seen a similar trend, said Latour.
“In B.C. last year they added more advanced opportunities and the uptake was huge,” she said.
“And that’s just indicative of electors needing more time in their work-life balance to go ahead and mark their ballot.”
Small communities in the NWT tend to have great participation at election events with between 60 and 90 per cent of eligible voters marking a ballot.
Yellowknife’s turnout at the polls lags in comparison.
“Here in the city, only 23 per cent of the city came out to cast a ballot last event,” said Latour.
“I don’t know if Yellowknife is just complacent because by population they have a lot of their needs met and things of that nature.”
In 2015 the territory also had a municipal, territorial and federal election in the same month, raising the prospect of voter fatigue.
Young adults are a particularly challenging demographic to motivate during elections.
“Based on the population estimates, there are approximately 2,800 people between the ages of 18 and 25 who are not registered electors, and approximately 5,000 people between the ages of 18 and 44 who are not registered,” an Elections NWT CEO report on the administration of the 2015 territorial general election states.
Latour hopes this new website will appeal to those missing voters, particularly young adults.
“Hopefully with a tool like this where information is readily available to them… our numbers will come up,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal – attendance.”
The voter engagement website is the first of its kind in the country. Elections Canada and other jurisdictions have shown interest in it, said Latour.
“We’re all trying to find a way to reach the electorate and serve the electorate,” she said.
“The North is innovating. I think it’s important to let people know that it isn’t in mining or all the other industries. It’s in the little field of elections that we have this really cool tool.”
The territory’s small population is an advantage because it makes for a good testing ground.
“We can do things much more quickly and we face less risks,” said Latour.
While the upcoming territorial election will still use traditional paper ballots, Electorhood is another option.
“If you feel comfortable getting all your information on Electorhood and exercising your right to vote, we have that,” said Latour.
Electorhood will be previewed at the Elections NWT booth at the spring trade show in May before the site goes live in July.