Voting rules should be changed at the last minute to let isolating NWT residents vote, the territory’s labour federation said in a Thursday news release.
At the moment, NWT residents isolating through contact with the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak – and who did not vote at an advance poll or by mail – cannot vote in the federal election if their isolation period includes September 20.
Until the end of September 14, it was still possible to apply for a mail-in ballot and quickly return it before the deadline at the end of September 20. However, that window has now closed, leaving only in-person voting on the day.
The NWT’s chief public health officer has stated on multiple occasions: “If you are required to self-isolate for any reason, you should not leave your house to vote on election day.”
However, isolation being an unplanned activity, some residents who expected to vote on polling day now find themselves disenfranchised as they isolate.
“Considering the federal government decided to call an election during the fourth wave of a global pandemic, I figured there would be a contingency plan for this sort of situation,” said one Yellowknife resident who asked not to be named to protect their family’s privacy should their son develop symptoms. Their son was potentially exposed to Covid-19 at a city daycare.
“I get that there is only so much Elections Canada can do logistically, and I don’t expect someone to come to our doorstep to collect our vote, but I did expect there to be another option,” the resident continued.
“I wonder how many other people are in a similar situation, having lost the opportunity to exercise their right to vote because of Covid?”
The number of people currently isolating in the NWT is not a figure immediately available, though – with almost 200 active cases across the territory – it is likely to stretch to many hundreds.
In a news release on Thursday afternoon, the Northern Territories Federation of Labour called on the federal government and Elections Canada to “immediately implement a method of voting for residents of the Northwest Territories who are required to isolate due to unexpected Covid-19 exposure.”
The federation stated: “Voters who want to exercise their democratic right must be given every opportunity to do so. Advance polling and mail-in ballots cannot be the only way for those in isolation to vote. Foresight should not be a requirement for fair representation.”
Nicole Tews, the federation’s president, said the inability for isolating people to vote showed a “deeply disappointing” lack of planning.
“Though we can appreciate the complexity of running an election during a pandemic,” said Tews, “the responsibility to provide safe alternative voting measures on September 20 lies with Elections Canada.”
Elections Canada previously told Cabin Radio staff were expanding the available space at polling stations to help communities in containment or with other gathering restrictions, but voters may have to wait in line on Monday if polling stations are operating to limited capacities.
Leanne Tait, the NWT’s returning officer, told the CBC there was no way to offer an alternative voting method for people unexpectedly isolating after September 14’s mail-in ballot deadline.
“We don’t have the ability, without there being changes made in Parliament, for us to be able to offer alternate ways of voting once the advance polls have closed,” Tait said. Advance polls closed last Monday.