The 2015 federal election is just over two weeks away, and voter information cards have been mailed out across the Yukon.
But thanks to a technological glitch, some people are in for a surprise when they see where they’re supposed to vote.
“Some people in Watson Lake were told to vote in Haines Junction,” said Elections Canada returning officer Sue Edelman. “Some people in Whitehorse were told to vote in Dawson City.”
Edelman said the mistakes were caused by a problem with how Elections Canada’s system reads Yukon postal codes. She estimated that about 300 Whitehorse residents and 200 people in the communities were affected.
Edelman said new voter information cards are being issued, but may not arrive at voters’ homes in time for the advance polls, which open on Oct. 9.
She said voters should call the Elections Canada office in Whitehorse at 1-866-564-6480 if they want to vote in the advance polls and aren’t sure where to go, or if they see other mistakes on their voter information cards.
But a computer glitch isn’t the only factor that could complicate voting in this federal election.
The new Fair Elections Act, passed in 2014, includes two changes that may affect Yukon voters.
The first is that voters must now prove their residency when they go to the polls. During the last federal election, voters could use their voter information card as a proof of address. That is no longer allowed.
The second change is that voters with proper identification cannot vouch for the identity of someone else. However, they can still swear an oath to confirm another voter’s address, if that person cannot prove his/her own residency.
The rules could make voting harder for groups that tend to lack identification or fixed addresses, including First Nations, people in rural communities and students.
Chief Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation said many of her nation’s members used to use vouching and voter information cards to vote. She said changes to the law, combined with the fact that some of her people lack transportation, will make it “challenging” to get people to the polls.
She said the First Nation is working to make sure people are registered, and may hire someone to meet with people and help them with their identification.
Chief Mathieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation said members of her community used to just show up at the polls and vote, but that’s no longer possible because of the identification requirement. She said her First Nation has already hired someone to go door-to-door to make sure people are registered.
“I think it’s extremely important for our citizens to get out and have their votes count,” she said.
But registering can also be a challenge for voters with post office boxes and no street addresses. Voters have to provide a document that shows their physical address – typically a lot number, if there is no street address. That could be a utility or mortgage bill, for instance. Edelman said this requirement has not changed from previous elections. But people living in First Nations-owned housing may not have many of those documents.
Instead, First Nations can provide their members with a letter confirming their residency. Alatini said the Kluane First Nation is currently providing those letters to all eligible voters in each of its 65 housing units.
Still, she doesn’t believe the paperwork will dissuade community members from voting. In fact, she thinks it may have the opposite effect. “I think if anything, the awareness that it is more strict… has incited people’s desire to vote.”
Kara Johancsik, communications coordinator for BYTE, a Yukon youth advocacy organization, said young people with transient lifestyles may also find it difficult to prove their residency.
“I think that young people will face challenges if they search for the right ID. That’s the main access barrier,” she said.
But she advised people who are concerned about their ability to vote simply to go to one of the Elections Canada offices in Whitehorse, Dawson City, or Watson Lake.
“Bring ID, bring your mail. Get it all together… and go to an Elections Canada office,” she said. “You have the right to vote. Don’t let the paperwork get in the way.”
Edelman said some of the concerns about changing election rules are the result of misinformation, and not as much has changed as some people might think. In fact, 1,800 of the 25,000 registered voters in the Yukon have already cast their ballots.
She also cautioned that Elections Canada’s online voter registration service does not work for people with post office boxes instead of street addresses. That means some voters may think they’re not registered when they actually are.
Edelman said anyone with questions or concerns about voting should contact Elections Canada.
“We’re here to help. We’ve got a great location this year, right by the liquor store (in Whitehorse),” she said. “We’d love to hear from you. We really would.”
A short guide to voting
1 If you’ve received your voter information card, you are registered to vote. To vote, you need ID that proves your identity and address. Your driver’s licence is enough. Otherwise, bring two pieces of ID, one with your address. The address must match the one on your voter information card.
2 If you can’t prove your address, someone from the same polling division as you can swear an oath for you. You still need to have two pieces of ID.
3 If you’re a member of a First Nation, or if you reside in a student residence, seniors’ residence, shelter or long-term care facility, you can get a letter of confirmation of residence. You still need to have one other piece of ID.
4 If you haven’t yet received your voter information card, you may not be registered to vote. You can register online, in person, or by mail before 6 p.m. on Oct. 13. You can also register at the polls, but it may take more time. If you have a post office box and not a street address, you cannot register online.
5 To register with a post office box, you must provide a document with your physical address (i.e. lot number), like a utility, tax, or mortgage bill. You can then add your post office box to your file. You will then be allowed to vote with a driver’s licence or other ID that lists your post office box.
6 You can vote now at any of the Elections Canada offices in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Watson Lake.
7 For more information, call the Whitehorse Elections Canada office at 1-866-564-6480 or visit www.elections.ca.
Contact Maura Forrest at