Liberal candidate defends use of proxy votes by homeless residents

A Yukon Liberal candidate says she doesn’t know if she’ll give back the proxy voting forms she helped homeless people get even if Elections Yukon says she made a mistake.

A Yukon Liberal candidate says she doesn’t know if she’ll give back the proxy voting forms she helped homeless people get even if Elections Yukon says she made a mistake.

The elections office is looking into Tamara Goeppel’s campaign in Whitehorse Centre after she helped 10 homeless people fill out paperwork that allows someone else to vote on their behalf.

Goeppel doesn’t deny what she’s done. She said she believed proxy voting was a way to help homeless people exercise their democratic right to vote.

“There is a segment of our society in my neighbourhood that has never been politically represented. They’re not found on the voters list, most of them have never voted. Technically we have ignored this community.”

Goeppel has lived in the area her entire life and was one of the first Liberal candidates to announce her intention to run nearly a year ago.

She said it’s since then that she’s really learned the difficulties faced by some people when it comes to voting.

She said she spoke to a former homeless person who filled out a special ballot for the first time this election. Those ballots are a way for people to vote ahead of election day Nov. 7.

“He did it and he said, ‘there’s no way in this lifetime a street person will be able to do this,’” Goeppel said.

“First of all, walking into that office is totally intimidating, they will bolt, they won’t even go near the door.”

Even if they did make it through the door there are forms to fill out, Goeppel said. “He said most of these folks can’t even read the forms.”

You need to write out the political party and candidate’s name: “You’ve lost them, he said, because they won’t know how to spell.”

Even having a friend come with them is too much to ask of people surviving on the streets, she said.

“For you and I, we walk into an environment that we’re very comfortable in and we put an X. That’s a pretty low barrier to vote,” she said.

“Whereas with these folks we’re demanding that they have to read, they have to write, they have to go into an environment where they feel threatened.

“It really shows that there is a huge misunderstanding of someone’s situation with this community. There’s rules out there that seem to be made from afar, not really appreciating what these people go through.”

Goeppel said she spoke to many homeless people about where they’re going to be on election day.

One person told her “‘You know, Tamara, I might be at the bottom of the river in two days. I don’t know where I am going to be,’” she said.

“A lot of them just chimed in and said, ‘We’re survivors here, we might be in our makeshift shelter somewhere down the highway, we don’t know where we are going to be.’”

Goeppel said, in her mind, that was enough for them to qualify to use a proxy ballot.

Proxy voting means voters can choose another person to mark a ballot on their behalf. They can also appoint a political party to find someone to vote for them.

Goeppel said she turned people away from signing a form if they were intoxicated. Some people used the Salvation Army’s church on Black Street as their home address.

Elections Yukon is already looking into other accusations of wrongdoing in the Mountainview riding, including allegations that political representatives were driving intoxicated people to the polls. The people allegedly responsible have not been identified.

“It’s not arm twisting or falsification (in this case),” Goeppel said. “I have to get up and look at myself in the mirror.”

Dave Wilkie, the territory’s assistant chief electoral officer, said he’s not in a position to say definitively if what Goeppel did was correct until all the information has been gathered.

Proxy ballots are for people who will be outside the territory on election day, Wilkie said.

Parts of the Elections Yukon website on voting are ambiguous.

While it does identify proxy ballots as being for Yukoners who will be Outside, the site also tells voters they can ask a political party to appoint someone to vote on their behalf “if you expect to be outside Yukon or in an isolated location.”

Wilkie said those last few words, which may appear to support Goeppel, are actually referring to something that had to be done prior to the election even being called.

Isolation refers to people with no highway access to a polling station or regular postal services, Wilkie said. These people can apply to qualify for a proxy ballot but that has to be done before the writ is dropped.

Wilkie admitted that part of the website “doesn’t read particularly well.”

Liberal Party chair Laura Cabott told the News Goeppel was wrong to do what she did.

“I think she did make a mistake. I think … she has a genuine desire to help out vulnerable people,” Cabott said.

“I think it was well intentioned but she did make a mistake and she’s prepared to return those proxies and leave it at that.”

The party has taught its candidates about the Elections Act, she said.

“A proxy is only to be used by people that reasonably believe that they’re going to be outside of the Yukon. That’s exactly what we’ve told all of our candidates.”

The idea of returning the forms is news to Goeppel, who said Thursday she hadn’t spoken to Cabott.

Goeppel is not willing to commit to giving the forms back.

“I would have to talk to my team and ask them, ‘Are we going to make a stand here for the homeless and say, look, even if Elections Yukon says that we have to pull the proxies, isn’t that the intimidation and the fear-mongering that we’re fighting against?’” she said.

“My hill to die on politically is that I want to be the voice of my constituents. Not only the homeless but also the folks that are in the condos and Old Town. I’m the voice for all of my constituents.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said he believes Goeppel will find a way to help people vote.

“I think this is in front of an investigation right now and they’ll figure out that she did nothing wrong and she’ll figure out a way of making sure that marginalized individuals get a chance to vote,” he said.

“That’s all she ever wanted to do was to make sure that these individuals had a chance to vote.”

In fact, amendments to the Elections Act that took effect in June make an effort to help more homeless people get to the polls.

Now “attestations” are possible. That means, for example, someone from the Salvation Army who is familiar with a regular client can sign a form and attest to that person’s identity, Wilkie said.

The client can use the signed form as a piece of ID to vote.

Wilkie said information about the change has been given to various community groups.

It won’t be clear until after the election if anyone decides to use that option.

Proxy votes can’t be cast until election day, Nov. 7, or at the two advance polls Oct. 30 and 31.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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