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Saturday's all right for voting?
Report recommends possible solutions for low voter participation

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Would you vote on a Saturday? Changing the polling day to either Saturday or a weekday that falls later in the week is one of the 25 recommendations in a report from chief electoral officer David Brock.

  • Allow campaign broadcasting in the 24-hour period before election day, clearing the way for campaign ads right up until the vote.
  • Two new offences should be added to the Elections Act following complaints from the 2011 general election: Intimidating a candidate and pretending to be an election officer.
  • A voter without identification can have someone from the same polling division vouch for them, making it easier to find someone than from the same electoral district.
  • The registered voters list is outdated. Currently, returning officers can only change the list if someone asks them to. Returning officers would be granted the power to remove names from the list if they know the voter has moved.

Source: Report of the Chief Electoral Officer

The report was tabled in the legislative assembly June 14.

In an age of record-low voter turnouts - 48 per cent of registered voters participated in the 2011 territorial election compared to 67.02 per cent in 2007 - a few of the recommendations aim to increase votes.

The recommendations are varied. Some outline a need for updated definitions for clarity, others speak to changing trends and an increased use of social media.

Brock's expectation is the recommendations will be looked at by a standing committee at the legislative assembly. Then, the committee adopts, rejects or adds recommendations of its own. After the standing committee reports back to the House, direction for draft regulation is given. Then, the changes would be applied for the 2015 territorial election.

Brock believes changing the voting day from a Monday to one later in the week could help increase voter turnout.

"People are certainly aware of the election campaign," he said.

"But throughout the weekend their focus changes from business to family pursuits, then they come back to work on Monday and think, 'right, the election is today.'"

Brock said 20 per cent of voters are considered intermittent voters. "They like the idea of casting a ballot but are less likely to do so if they perceive themselves as too busy," he said.

"By holding the election later in the week, there can be more of a buildup as to when the election is actually taking place."

According to Brock, some candidates were hesitant to campaign on a Sunday because it's still seen as a day of rest.

In the 2011 territorial election, Frame Lake had the lowest voter turnout, with just under 30 per cent of registered voters turning in a ballot.

Wendy Bisaro, MLA for the riding, said she doesn't know what would make more residents turn up to vote.

"I've been struggling with that on my own to come up with ideas," she said.

"Whatever we can do to increase voter turnout is a good thing, it's abysmal."

Although Bisaro has yet to read the report in detail, she said the idea of voting on a Saturday is an interesting one.

"We do have legislation that allows people three uninterrupted hours to vote, but on a Saturday you can just drop in when you want," said Bisaro.

"If it's on a workday you have to plan when you can take off from work or when you can go after."

She said it's hard to tell what exactly could increase voter turnout because everyone is different.

Charles Dent, MLA formerly representing Frame Lake for 16 years, said he doesn't know if changing the day to Saturday would make much of a difference.

"What happens if it's a really nice day and everyone takes off?" asked Dent.

"When I think of other provinces and jurisdictions in Canada most of them have their voting days on Monday."

Dent said the increased media availability in the time leading up to the election could make a difference, keeping the campaign in the public eye.

"As a politician, I would have to ask my constituents what they thought, but I'm not and as a constituent it doesn't make any difference to me."

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