Thousands of NWT residents will vote on Tuesday in a delayed election that acts as stage one of deciding the territory’s political future for the next four years.
Sixteen MLAs will be chosen in votes across the territory. Another three have already been decided: Caroline Wawzonek in Yellowknife South, Caitlin Cleveland in Kam Lake and Jane Weyallon-Armstrong in Monfwi, all incumbents, were acclaimed last month as nobody ran against them.
Polls open across the NWT at 9am and close at 8pm in an election that would have taken place in October, but was pushed back six weeks by the summer wildfire crisis.
Cabin Radio’s Election Night Live begins on our live stream from 6pm with Ollie Williams. Live text updates will appear on our website throughout the evening from Emily Blake.
What if it’s too close to call?
Once the votes are in, we should know which 19 people are set to govern the territory until late 2027 – although recounts are fairly common in the NWT, where elections might hinge on a handful of votes.
A judicial recount must go ahead if candidates appear to be tied or the apparent winner is separated from any other candidate by less than two percent of the total votes cast in that district.
As an example, in Yellowknife North four years ago, Rylund Johnson received five votes more than incumbent Cory Vanthuyne. With 1,377 votes cast, the mandatory recount margin was 28 votes (two percent of 1,377), meaning any gap smaller than that triggered a recount.
Multiple recounts were required in both 2015 and 2019. In 2019, two recounts each took place a full week after polling day, so be prepared to wait for a result if that happens in your district.
What happens after Tuesday?
Electing 19 MLAs is only the start of the political refresh that happens in the NWT every four years.
Under the rules of consensus government, those MLAs – not the public – then decide who will be premier and who will be the six other cabinet members. The new premier decides which portfolios to give each member of their cabinet, but doesn’t get to hand-pick their team. Committee roles must also be assigned and a Speaker of the House chosen.
At the moment, the legislative calendar suggests a premier will be chosen on November 30 and their cabinet on December 7.
The final piece of the puzzle is an exercise whereby all 19 MLAs come together to jointly choose their priorities for the four years ahead.
The issues about which people are voting remain remarkably similar to those raised four years ago, despite the intervention of a pandemic, floods and wildfires in the intervening years.
In 2019, candidates focused their campaigns on the likes of the economy, addictions and mental healthcare, the NWT’s struggling education system, a new polytechnic university, urgent housing needs across the territory and demands for new infrastructure.
Those themes are all present this time around, to which emergency management and the climate crisis have been added as key concerns.
Once MLAs agree on priorities – early 2024, in all likelihood – will the Northwest Territories have a government with a speaker, a premier, a cabinet, 11 regular MLAs and a mandate setting out what it plans to do.
As of Monday, Elections NWT said 2,795 people had already cast their votes using a combination of online and postal voting plus voting in person at the office of the returning officer.
That’s just over 10 percent of the 25,893 residents who are so far registered to vote.
In 2015, 3,408 people voted ahead of polling day. In 2019, that figure was 3,040.
This year, Elections NWT said on Monday, there have already been 489 votes cast in Thebacha using advance voting – a 32-percent turnout before polling day had even begun. Nahendeh and Hay River South are not far behind, having each already recorded a turnout of a little over 27 percent.
That’s not unusual. In 2019, Thebacha again reported a 32-percent turnout just before election day, and Nahendeh and Hay River South were again second and third.
When will results come in?
In 2019, initial results from individual polls began filtering through shortly before 8:45pm. We were able to call a district for the first time (Wawzonek in Yellowknife South) at 9:15pm.
By 10pm, we had results from six districts, including one in Hay River. Inuvik results arrived shortly before 10:30pm.
In 2019, Nahendeh was the last district to report some form of result just before midnight.
Note that 2019’s timings are no guarantee of the same thing happening this time around.
Lastly, don’t forget one standout feature of voting in the NWT: liquor stores must remain closed, by law, while polls are open. Nor can you be served liquor or cannabis anywhere you’d normally buy it.