The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions.
At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, assistant city clerk Norma Felker brought forward a proposed election procedures bylaw that would guide the Oct. 21 municipal vote to elect a new mayor and council.
A new election procedures bylaw is drafted and adopted by council in an election year as the city gets set to prepare for the vote.
Along with the usual rules that provide for the appointment of Felker as the returning officer, use of the list of electors, nomination dates and the like, the 2021 bylaw would also factor in the global pandemic.
“The proposed bylaw also provides additional options for voters in the event that restrictions established by the Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus will be in effect at the time of the 2021 municipal election,” Felker said in her report to council.
Provisions would allow for all electors to vote by mail-in ballot and at advance polls.
“This offers opportunity to vote in person at a time and location convenient to the elector, regardless of whether or not they expect to be present in the city on polling day,” Felker noted of the advance polls.
She confirmed when questioned by council members that there is an option for those who do not have the required ID to have someone vouch for them and cast a ballot under special ballot provisions.
The returning officer could also establish additional advance polls beyond the maximum outlined in the territory’s Municipal Act.
The Municipal Act provides for two dates for advance polls, but also includes a clause for additional dates to be added by a municipality as an emergency provision.
As currently proposed, the bylaw would see an advance poll at Whitehorse City Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 14 and at the Canada Games Center from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Oct. 16.
Having more options for advance and special ballot polls (such as those held at care homes, correctional facilities and others) could help keep crowds and wait times for voting to a minimum on election day, it was noted.
Coun. Samson Hartland said he’s pleased to see more options for special ballots and advance polls as that will spread out the vote.
“I like that flexibility,” he said.
Should the territory’s Chief Medical Officer of Health impose new restrictions on polling day, the city manager would have the authority to close polls and establish an alternate date for mail-in ballots to be received.
Also included in the bylaw are provisions for a five-person Board of Revision to be established to review the list of electors and honorariums set for board members as well as staff operating the polls.
Members of the Board of Revision would receive $240 for their work with poll staff honorariums set at $384 for the senior deputy returning officer, $300 each for the deputy returning officer and the revision officer, $270 each for poll clerks, tabulator operators and poll attendants, with standby election officials to receive $90 on standby (should they be called in, their pay would reflect the position they are working in).
It’s anticipated that Board of Revision members will put about 15 hours of work in while senior election positions will put in about 16 hours with others to put in about 15 hours.
It’s expected the city will hire more than 100 people to work during the election, including at advance polls. A total of 13 polling places are anticipated to be established, the same number that was in place in the 2018 vote.
The bylaw would set a Sept. 23 nomination date with candidates required to submit their nomination papers between 10 a.m. and noon in council chambers at city hall. Those unable to make the nomination date could also submit their paper work by making an appointment with the returning officer before 10 a.m. on nomination day.
Felker said council information packages — which provide details about running for office and includes nomination papers — will likely be available in May, though candidates will have to wait until the formal start of the election period in September to file their paperwork.
Looking ahead to election night, Coun. Samson Hartland noted his presumption that there would not be the gathering at city hall there typically is to take in the election results. The city typically opens up council chambers for the public to come in and take in the results. The event typically draws candidates, their families and friends as well as former council members and the general public.
Felker said that while no plans for election night have been made at this point, the city is planning a “COVID election” and will be planning to bring the election results to the public virtually.
The city has budgeted $250,000 for the election with a joint pilot project for Elections Yukon to assist with the election. That compares with $81,408 spent on the 2018 vote and $70,000 on the 2015 vote.
Council will vote March 8 on whether to move forward with the election procedures bylaw.
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