Yellowknife's City Hall is pictured in May 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife’s mail-in municipal election faces a crisis: residents don’t have their ballots and time is running out.
A spokesperson confirmed by email on Wednesday afternoon that the City of Yellowknife is “aware that residents have not yet received their mail-in ballots.”
“The city will continue to monitor the progress of their arrival,” the municipality said in a statement, promising to add an extra drop-box next week so voters can return ballots in person at City Hall or the multiplex without having to use the mail.
Rob Warburton, one of 16 candidates for Yellowknife’s eight-person city council, said the idea of a mail-in ballot being held with a deadline of October 17 “doesn’t look like it’s realistic, time-wise.”
Cat McGurk, also a candidate, questioned in an email “the ability to have an effective election completed, when we are offering mail-in as the primary option, when voters will not even have two weeks to submit their ballots at this rate. People should have ample opportunity to participate.”
McGurk noted the city has “drastically reduced the amount of polling stations that might serve as a buffer in this,” from seven at the last election to two this time, each of which open no earlier than 10am on polling day.
“The city hasn’t even received the ballots yet from down south and they have no ETA on when those are arriving,” Warburton said.
“We have 12 days and in that time, we are supposed to get those out the door, into people’s hands, and then they are supposed to fill them out and get them back. I don’t see how that happens in 12 days, especially with a long weekend in the middle.”
The actual situation is even tighter than that.
With Thanksgiving Day on Monday, October 10, seven business days remain in which to receive the ballot, vote, and ensure the city has it. (In other words, mailing it on polling day won’t work. It needs to be in the city’s possession by 7pm on October 17.)
The city’s current process does allow for voting on polling day itself. But to vote on the day, October 17, you have to go to a “voter assistance location” – the city isn’t calling them polling stations – at the Tree of Peace friendship centre or multiplex gym.
That, of course, still relies on there being ballots to fill out. Without ballots, even a regular in-person election can’t take place.
City Hall said on Wednesday that ballots “were expected to begin arriving in residents’ mailboxes the first week of October,” suggesting the ballots could still arrive at homes within the city’s expected window – even though that leaves little time to vote by mail..
The city has said it prefers a mail-in election because it’s safer (with the pandemic in mind), easier for voters with mobility issues, slightly cheaper than a regular election, convenient and flexible for voters, and requires fewer staff.
While the ballot delay isn’t really a problem with the mail-in process – it could theoretically happen to any election – the extra time needed to send ballots out and receive them again makes the timeline tighter than it would have otherwise been.
“Myself and other candidates have put great care into making sure people were registered on time to receive their mail-in ballot. I helped register over two-dozen voters the night before the alleged cut-off for mailing, a good two-thirds of which assumed they were registered,” McGurk wrote.
“I wasn’t even registered until just before the writ drop, and I vote in every election. The reason I chose to go out and check voter registrations was in large part because regardless of your support for mail-in balloting, we need to ease this transition as best we can.
“Voters deserve a predictable, well-understood, simple process. That is simply not what they’re getting.”
The last municipal election, held in 2018, had no mail-in option. No mayoral vote is taking place this month as Rebecca Alty, Yellowknife’s mayor since 2018, has already been acclaimed to a second term.