Politics

Early results shown on Elections NWT site 'are a glitch'


Elections NWT says pages of its website appearing to show partial results in some NWT districts were caused by a glitch and did not contain any genuine results.

On Tuesday, several voters reported being able to see partial results if they clicked the "unofficial results" tab for their district in Electorhood, an Elections NWT website newly launched for this election.

In both Yellowknife North and Yellowknife Centre, the "unofficial results" page showed some residents a results screen which listed real-life candidates.

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Claiming one of 10 polls was reporting, each screen assigned votes (out of 68 total votes in Yellowknife North and 200 votes in Yellowknife Centre) to individual candidates, showing who was leading.

Approached immediately by Cabin Radio on discovery of the "results," Nicole Latour – the NWT's chief electoral officer – said the results being shown were fake data used for testing.

"I think that's maybe the testing [team], they didn't do it on their training site," said Latour, who was not aware of the issue.

"I don't know how that happened, other than we test everything. We have a set of fake data and we put it in to make sure it is reporting correctly."

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Asked if she was sure the data was not real – for example, from online votes cast to date – Latour said: "No, no, it's absolutely not." She said the online voting software "doesn't even talk to" the system powering Electorhood.

Latour continued: "I don't know if it's a glitch. As soon as I hang up from you, I'll be talking to [the supplier]."

There was no indication to users, on any of the pages seen by Cabin Radio, that the "unofficial results" being displayed were part of system testing.

Those results have now disappeared. The pages in question now appear to show no data for all districts Cabin Radio was able to access.

'A lot of caution' about online voting

Election results are closely guarded and never revealed until all polls have closed – in this instance, after 8pm on October 1.

Turnout, however, which measures how many people have voted, can be reported throughout the election period.

Earlier, Latour had said 434 people were registered to vote online and another 58 had requested a mail-in ballot.

In terms of actual votes cast – either online, by mail, or in-person at the local returning officer’s office – Thebacha is the leading district to date.

The Fort Smith district was sitting at 18.64-percent voter turnout when Cabin Radio spoke with Latour on Tuesday morning. Voter turnout is at 6.81 percent across the NWT, one week out from October 1’s territorial election.

The Nahendeh district has the second-highest voter turnout right now, at 12.64 percent.

The 2019 election is the first time a territorial or provincial election in Canada has offered online voting to people who can’t make it to a regular or advance poll. Absentee ballot registration for online and mail-in ballots closed on September 21, but voters still have until October 1 at 8pm to cast their ballots.

Latour acknowledged the 450 or so people who signed up for online voting was "not that fantastic" compared to the number of people who could have used it.

Elections NWT posters encourage absentee voters to cast a ballot in 2019.

Elections NWT posters encourage absentee voters to cast a ballot in 2019.

Between post-secondary students, mine workers, military personnel, and people on vacation, there are thousands of residents who will be away from home and unable to vote in person on election day.

Out-of-territory students alone make up a potential 1,400 voters.

Elections NWT targeted these students via social media and direct email to encourage them to register for an absentee ballot, which includes the option to vote online.

In the 2015 election, 80 percent of youth voters aged 18 to 35 did not vote. This year, 53 percent of mail-in ballots and 40 percent of online ballots were requested by youth – which Latour said shows a significant uptick in youth voters leading up to election day.

While the numbers aren’t nearly as high as they could be, Latour said they are still significantly higher than in 2015.

When asked if there was anything Elections NWT could do differently in 2023 to encourage more absentee voters to vote online, Latour said no. Rather, she thinks people need time to get comfortable with the idea before they participate.

“There was a lot of caution on the behalf of electors – there were a few comments around it being hackable,” she said. “I think some people may have just sat back to see how it goes, if it was going to be ultimately successful, if it does offer them the security or peace of mind.

“I still look at it as a success. We put ballots in people's hands and that's really about the best that we can do."

UNW violates Elections Act

Meanwhile, Latour confirmed the Union of Northern Workers violated the NWT’s Elections and Plebiscites Act by not registering as a third party advertiser when placing two-page ads in the News North and the Yellowknifer newspapers last week.

The Act requires third-party advertisers to register with Elections NWT if they spend or plan to spend more than $500 on advertising. 

While Elections NWT is in communication with the UNW to resolve the issue, and Latour did not want to comment on the specifics, she did say, “It looks like it’s probably about a $2,000 fine for each ad.”

In an emailed statement, union president Todd Parsons wrote: "Prior to advertising, I had instructed staff to ensure that we were registered and in compliance with the Act. I was surprised to be notified by Elections NWT that we were not in compliance and we are immediately working to correct this administrative error.

"We believe we meet the requirements for registering as a third-party advertiser, and have submitted the required documentation to Elections NWT to ensure our activities are in compliance with the Act."

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