Northern Labrador candidates concerned about special ballots

·3 min read

Two candidates running in the Torngat Mountains district are crying foul over how the mail-in ballot process is affecting people on the northern Labrador coast.

Patricia Johnson-Castle, running for the NDP, and Lela Evans, the Progressive Conservative incumbent, both told SaltWire Network they heard from many people who had trouble accessing or using the website or phone system. Evans said she’s concerned about the impact that’s having on whether people will vote.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is an erosion of will to vote,” Evans said Friday from Makkovik. “There’s only so long people are going to keep trying before they give up. This is not a fair election. It’s not fair to the people who want to vote. It’s geared toward forcing people to give up.”

Evans said she has spoken to people from every community in the district about the technical problems they’ve encountered, and some told her they just gave up and didn’t vote.

People sharing internet connections is also common, Johnson-Castle said, which hasn’t been possible while the province is in Alert Level 5 without breaking public health regulations.

“It’s not like people could go into their family’s homes or the Nunatsiavut Government buildings to use the phones or internet,” she said. “I’m extremely concerned.”

One-third of the people in Nain don’t have their own internet or phone access, she said, a problem that isn’t just limited to that community.

Elections NL recently announced an extension to the special ballot deadline for Makkovik due to flights in the community being halted for a day due to COVID-19 concerns. A spokesperson told SaltWire special ballot votes are counted district by district and “we will adjust our plans to count Torngat Mountains later in the process to allow for late arrivals.”

While that’s all well and good, Johnson-Castle said, it won’t help the people who didn’t vote because of the technical issues and lack of access to internet or phone connections.

Weather delays can have a big impact this time of year in Labrador, expecially on travel. Bad weather kept both Evans and Johnson-Castle from doing all the campaigning they had planned last week and they both said they expect it to likely delay the ballots coming and the ballots leaving.

“If people do manage to order the ballot there’s no guarantee it will even get there,” Evans said. “If we get a string of weather delays it’ll impact everything. The ballot has to get in and the ballot has to get out. It’s not just the communities on the north coast, it’s impacting rural and remote Newfoundland and Labradorians across the province.”

Johnson-Castle said she has spoken to people who have been waiting on express mail packages from the island for weeks, so she’s skeptical of the speed the voting packages will make it to northern Labrador and then back to St. John’s.

“It’s difficult in good faith to tell people to spend their time trying to deal with Elections NL when there’s not a guarantee their vote is going to get counted,” she said.

According to a report completed by Elections NL on the 2019 provincial election, of the special ballots mailed to electors, 32 per cent were either not returned in time to be included in the count or were not returned at all.

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram