Members of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation who live outside of the traditional territory say they are frustrated by a quick byelection that didn’t leave enough time for mail-in ballots.
Information about the election was mailed out on July 14 to members of the First Nation who live outside the area, including a form that must be filled out in order to receive a special ballot for remote voting.
For Matthew Täò Morgan, who currently lives in Montreal, that meant he didn’t receive his form to request a special ballot in the mail until July 30.
That timeline only left four business days for Täò Morgan to fill out that form, receive a special ballot in the mail, and send that vote back across the country prior to general voting day on Aug. 6.
“It’s just really ridiculous and super frustrating. I used to be on student council myself and understand the process and whatnot but it feels rushed and poorly managed,” he said. “The whole thing just feels like we’re not respected as members of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, even though I grew up there.”
Canada Post’s delivery standard calculator suggests allowing 14 business days for deliveries between Dawson City to Montreal. The mail carrier is currently advising of COVID-19 delays.
Even by priority mail, which varies in cost from $23 to $50, Täò Morgan’s vote would never have arrived until well after the election was finalized.
While he doesn’t think it is a deliberate attempt to skew votes, he still feels frustrated about not being able to cast ballots from afar.
Wayne Potoroka, communications and policy director for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, said he could appreciate the frustration with the delays but the First Nation was operating based on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Election Act.
“No one anticipated postage delays because of a global pandemic when the Election Act was crafted,” he said.
The act has set timelines for byelections and instructions for mail-in ballots. Nominations must be closed 14 days after a notice of byelection is posted, and voting day must follow 14 days afterward.
Byelections are shorter than normal elections, and there is no advance poll option. That means the total election period is only six weeks long.
“We all take elections very seriously. I know the elections committee does as well,” Potoroka said. “I don’t really believe they have the latitude to tweak the rules. They must administer an election with the rules that they are given. That is what they did, they ran an election that passed the standards of the Elections Act.”
Potoroka said there are 968 eligible voters in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. In total, 272 votes were counted, with the majority in Dawson City and Whitehorse.
Of the 55 special ballots requested, 40 were received and counted, he said.
Micheline Vaughan, who currently lives in British Columbia, said changes could increase the voter turnout. Like Täò Morgan she also received her ballot request form less than two weeks from voting day.
“Aside from COVID if you look at TH’s numbers, and how many votes there have been even in previous years, obviously something needs to change. There are many out-of-territory members who try to stay connected but we should at least be given the chance to vote in a fair election,” she said.
Carol McCourt, who lives on Vancouver Island, said she also remains frustrated that her vote was not counted due to postage scheduling. She didn’t receive the mail-in ballot request form until July 22. She said she feels not enough is done to engage citizens living abroad.
“You’re a little bit discriminated upon, it seems, when you live outside of the territory. You’re not included in a lot of these decisions,” she said. “And when you do try to participate you’re not given a fair chance.”
“The whole entire act needs to be looked at and changed,” she said.
Täò Morgan suggested that changes should have been made to accommodate mail-in ballots. He said implementing an online voting system, allowing proxy votes or including the special ballots with the initial information packages on July 14 as potential solutions.
McCourt said she feels not enough was done to engage citizens living away and information about the election could have been mailed or distributed earlier.
The election’s chief returning officer Charles Brunner is expected to prepare a report for chief and council following the election.
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