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Voting day uncertainty abounds
Voters may have to go to different polling stations for federal and municipal elections

James Goldie
Northern News Services
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

With little more than a month to go before election day, it remains unclear whether voters in the federal and municipal elections taking place on the same day will have to cast their ballots in separate polling stations.

The city booked its polling stations months ago but Elections Canada has yet to confirm where voters in the federal election will go. Both elections take place Oct. 19.

Whether or not the city can share facilities, such as schools and the Multiplex arena, depends on a piece of territorial legislation called the Local Authorities Elections Act, which outlines the rules for NWT communities to hold joint elections. However, wording in the act is unclear as to the definition of a "joint election" and requires further review.

"My opinion of what a joint election means is ideally giving citizens the opportunity in those instances where we do have (different) elections ... happening on the same day, the opportunity to find the most convenient way to vote in all those elections," said Mayor Mark Heyck.

"To ideally come into one polling station, collect your ballots for the different elections at one stop and then be able to go on with your day.

However, Heyck was quick to point out that the city is ultimately limited by what is permitted by legislation. He said the city would be happy to share facilities with Elections Canada so long as it would not be breaking any territorial laws in doing so.

"We have enough challenges with voter turnout in this country and it would be beneficial to those democratic ideals if people could have the easiest route to casting their ballot in all the different elections," he said.

The Local Authorities Elections Act states communities can conduct elections "jointly with another local authority," such as a school board. However, there is no mention of territorial or federal authorities.

"There's some challenging language in there about how we could do this on the same day in the same place," said Nalini Naidoo, director of communications with the city.

Naidoo said citizens tend to phone the city any time they have an issue, whether or not the problem is local, territorial or federal, which means it's essential for city staff to keep in contact with all levels of government leading up to election day.

"We just need to make sure we're all communicating and do the best we can to ensure that residents know where they need to be," she said.

The city will be conducting joint elections with Yellowknife's two main school districts, sharing facilities but not returning officers, as it did in 2012, according to Naidoo.

Diane Benson, a spokesperson for Elections Canada, said she has been in contact with city officials about the same-day elections but could not provide information about federal polling stations.

"The returning officers are still working on confirming locations so it's still a bit early," she said by e-mail.

Heyck said differences between federal and municipal election rules, such as identification requirements or hours of operation may also complicate voters' hopes of casting all ballots in one location.

There are some elements of the territorial legislation governing municipal elections that might be worth changing or broadening in the future, he added.

"Right now the Act says very clearly an election shall happen every three years on the third Monday of October, and I think it might be worthwhile to build a little flexibility there, maybe plus or minus a month," he said.

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