No voting options left for people exposed to COVID-19 in N.W.T. this week

·4 min read
Voters go to the polls on Sept. 20, but those who are exposed to COVID-19 in the days leading up to election day won't be able to vote. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Voters go to the polls on Sept. 20, but those who are exposed to COVID-19 in the days leading up to election day won't be able to vote. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Some people planning to vote on Election Day won't be able to cast their ballots if they're isolating.

With advance polls now closed and the deadline to apply for mail-in ballots passed, Elections Canada says there's no recourse for voters who get exposed to COVID-19 this week. Anyone who is isolating will not be welcome at polling stations.

"If somebody is in isolation, then they're in isolation for safety reasons and they need to remain (there)," said Leanne Tait, Election Canada's returning officer for the Northwest Territories.

Tait said well before the writ dropped, Elections Canada was looking to expand how people could vote. Ultimately, though, Tait said it was up to Parliament to let Elections Canada offer other methods of voting.

Elections Canada is guided by the Canada Elections Act, she said, and can't act outside the deadlines and processes within that act.

"They are entrenched in law. We don't have the ability, without there being changes made in Parliament, for us to be able to offer alternate ways of voting once the advance polls have closed," she said.

"It's not a matter of having the will, it's a matter of having the way."

David Wasylciw, a political analyst in the Northwest Territories and founder of OpenNWT, a non-profit that develops tools to make government information accessible to the public, said politicians should have done more before calling the election to create opportunities for people who are isolating to vote.

Submitted by David Wasylciw
Submitted by David Wasylciw

Wasylciw said the short election period put Elections Canada in a bind. It's a bad time to be having an election, he noted, and it's disappointing some people won't be able to vote.

"Looking at Canada right now, everybody deserves to be represented and have a say in who represents them. So anything that takes away from that opportunity is really too bad," he said.

"It does a disservice to residents and to the people who are running, because you want everyone to have a chance to register their vote for whoever they support."

Wasylciw said he isn't sure how practical methods such as mobile voting would be, where someone would go to the homes of isolating people to let them cast a ballot, but more flexibility should be given for early voting.

"When we're talking about [the] government's response to COVID, it's a little ironic that COVID is also a barrier for people to get out and vote. Because to some degree, the people who have COVID probably have some of the most to say about what parties should be running the country, or at least representing them in the N.W.T.," he said.

Containment orders

It isn't clear how many people in the Northwest Territories are currently isolating, but as of Wednesday the territory reported 199 active cases of COVID-19. One hundred and twenty-eight of those are in Yellowknife.

Behchokǫ̀ and Whatì are both under containment orders, with 30 active cases in Behchokǫ̀ and 23 in Whatì.

Tait said communities under containment orders would still have polls on Sept. 20 like any other community, but there would be strict regulations of how many people are allowed inside at once.

She said voters should be prepared to queue up outside voting stations in communities like Behchokǫ̀ and Whatì.

"So if you come to vote, you want to make sure that you are prepared to wait a little longer. Be patient. Be kind. Follow COVID requirements," she said.

Inside, there will be single-use pencils for voters as well as gloves, disposable masks and routine sanitizing.

In some of the smaller Northwest Territories communities, there are other barriers to voting.

Mark Hadlari/CBC
Mark Hadlari/CBC

Robert Sayine, an elder in Fort Resolution, said advance polls weren't an option for him.

He plans to put on a mask on Monday and go cast his vote — but if he catches COVID-19 before then, it's a simple decision to stay home for the health and safety of the community.

"If there is an outbreak in my community, then for sure it'll have a big impact — people will not go out and vote because safety is the number one issue here, especially in a small community like Fort Resolution," he said.

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