The City of Yellowknife plans changes to its elections bylaw that would allow residents to vote by mail in an upcoming referendum.
In November, Yellowknifers will be asked to cast a ballot on whether the city should borrow money to build a new aquatic centre. The referendum is a legal requirement that will decide if the city can forge ahead with long-discussed plans to replace the ageing Ruth Inch Memorial Pool.
City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett on Monday told councillors city staff have been working to find the safest and most effective way for residents to vote during the Covid-19 pandemic, while maximizing voter turnout.
City Hall wants to send out mail-in ballots but, to do so, must first change the municipality’s elections bylaw.
“We really think this is the best path forward,” Bassi-Kellett said.
The proposed changes to Yellowknife’s bylaw would allow for mail-in balloting and the use of tabulators – vote-counting machines – during municipal elections, by-elections, and referendums.
A memo to councillors states mail-in ballots would give shift-workers, mine rotation workers, and people in isolation or under other Covid-19 restrictions the opportunity to vote. Territorial legislation doesn’t currently allow municipalities to use online voting.
Vote-counting machines, the memo states, will replace a manual ballot count. They are estimated to reduce working time by up to three hours.
City councillors will vote on whether to approve the bylaw changes at their next council meeting on September 27.
Mayor Rebecca Alty thanked city staff for thinking ahead of the municipal referendum, noting other “colleagues” hadn’t been as forward-thinking.
Across Canada, residents have criticized Elections Canada’s organization of the snap federal election. Anyone in isolation through Covid-19 exposure who did not vote at an advance poll or apply for a mail-in ballot before September 14 could not cast a ballot on election day. The CBC and other news outlets reported some people who applied for mail-in ballots didn’t get them in time to vote.
A 2020 report by Taylor Architecture Group and MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects estimated the new aquatic centre will cost between $52.4 and $63.7 million, with annual operating costs of $2.3 to $2.7 million.
The city has been granted $12.9 million in federal funding for the project and will spend $4.3 million in existing municipal funds.
If residents give the city the green light to borrow the remainder, the new aquatic centre is expected to be complete by the winter of 2023.