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Politics

NWT advance polls, sometimes a flight away, open with Covid-19 changes


Advance polls, designed to make voting easier but requiring a return flight for some Northwest Territories residents, are now open.

From Friday, September 10 to Monday, September 13, you can vote in the federal election at advance polling locations across the territory. You need your voter information card, ID, and a mask. Locations are open from 9am to 9pm daily.

On Friday morning, NWT returning officer Leanne Tait said alterations had now been made to accommodate heightened pandemic public health measures in and around Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀.

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“Most of the Yellowknife polling places haven’t changed but we’ve added more space in each of those venues. So for example, in the Explorer Hotel, we’ve taken more space there,” Tait told Cabin Radio.

In Behchokǫ̀, where the community arena is the polling location, Tait said the space was large enough for voters to spread out.

“We do have to limit the number of people that we can serve or have in that building at any one time – we’ve been given a limit of 20 people. If we have more than 20 people who need to be in that space, or who are there to vote for advance polls, they’re going to have to queue outside, six feet apart,” said Tait.

“Same thing goes for polling day on September 20: we will have three polls in that same space and we will be allowed to have 15 electors in for every poll.”

If you want to avoid lining up, Tait recommends heading to your polling location during the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. You can also vote at Yellowknife’s returning office up until September 14.

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Getting to an advance polling location is a challenge for some NWT residents. They don’t exist in every community.

Fort Providence residents, for example, are told their advance poll is in Behchokǫ̀ – which is not only 225 km away but also under a Covid-19 containment order. The NWT’s chief public officer is currently discouraging travel to and from Behchokǫ̀.

“We had the discussion with the chief, and the community, and the public health officer in Yellowknife yesterday, and we all agreed that the advance polls and the regular polling could go forward,” said Tait.

“We’re making sure that we put Covid protections in place to ensure the safety of the electors and the workers.”

Fort Providence isn’t the only community facing a trek to an advance poll.

Łútsël K’é residents are expected to use the advance poll in Yellowknife, Elections Canada’s website states, which means either sailing for a few hundred kilometres across one of the world’s largest lakes or taking a flight.

Ulukhaktok is another example. Residents are asked to use the advance poll in Inuvik. At this point, that would mean taking the Monday afternoon flight, waiting overnight, and returning home on Tuesday.

There are other ways to vote: polling day itself being one of them, when most NWT residents should find a polling station in their home community (check the Elections Canada website for details). Elections Canada is still hiring poll workers in the NWT, with roughly 80 percent of positions in the territory filled so far.

Tait says you can still vote by mail, too, although you should get on with it.

“The deadline to apply is September 14 but, just because you apply by the 14th, doesn’t mean you will automatically get your vote counted. You will get the package sent to you very, very quickly, but then it’s up to you how long it takes you to fill it out, put it back in the mail, and get it back to us,” said Tait.

“So while we will process requests up till September 14, people need to make sure their ballots get back to us here in the returning office in Yellowknife no later than the end of polling on September 20.”

Sarah Sibley contributed reporting.

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