Voters vexed at Elections Yukon

Dozens of Yukoners were unable to cast their ballots during Tuesday's territorial election, thanks to confusion over rules for residents who were not on the voting list.

Dozens of Yukoners were unable to cast their ballots during Tuesday’s territorial election, thanks to confusion over rules for residents who were not on the voting list.

Many expected they could simply show up with a sheaf of paper to demonstrate their residency. After all, that’s how it works for both municipal and federal elections.

But territorial elections are different.

Elections Yukon also required uncounted voters to find someone to vouch for them, from within their same polling division, on top of providing ID and proof of residency.

In Whitehorse, many affected residents appeared to live in rental suites without street entrances, and so were missed by enumerators.

So it was with Frank Patch. He thought he found an easy solution after being told he needed someone to vouch for him.

As he left his downtown polling station, he saw a co-worker who lived two blocks away from him.

But, as it turned out, she lived in a different polling district – a unit used to divide up ridings. She couldn’t help.

So Patch called up neighbours. None were home.

So he began knocking on doors. “I was feeling kind of dejected. I really didn’t want to bother someone and drag them down there with me.

“As it turned out, a fellow across the street was driving in. I told him about it and he said, ‘Oh, sure, I’ll take you down there.’

“Instead of taking a few minutes, it took an hour and a half. I was on the verge of giving up, to be quite honest. But I wanted to vote.”

Patch later learned several friends had similar stories. All were upset.

“They found out their brand-new driver’s licences, which they just paid $60 for, were not adequate for their identities, according to Elections Yukon. They didn’t even bother voting. They got discouraged and went home.”

Patch wonders how many others were excluded.

“How would you possibly vote if you don’t have a fixed address? There are people in this town that get their mail from a post office box, and move around a lot. People work in camps all summer long.

“I don’t know how homeless people get an opportunity to vote. But it seems to me they should be entitled to it.

“They shouldn’t be denied the opportunity just because they don’t have a conventional house.”

Yukon’s chief electoral officer, Jo-Ann Waugh, fielded many upset phone calls on Tuesday.

It left her a bit bewildered.

Elections Yukon tried to explain the rules before the election with newspaper, radio and television advertisements. “Failing that, I don’t know what else we could have done to get the message out.”

Voters missed during enumeration were advised to get themselves on the list. If they did so a week before the election, they simply needed to show ID.

Contrary to the recollections of many voters, Yukon Elections hadn’t allowed uncounted voters to be sworn in at the polls for nearly three decades.

“In 2006, it didn’t exist. But we got lots of complaints. People wanted to be sworn in, and nobody could understand why we didn’t do it. We were one of two jurisdictions in the country that didn’t have swearing-in at the polls.”

Waugh was accused by some of taking away their vote. Not so, she said.

“We weren’t taking their vote away from them. They weren’t losing their vote – they just needed to work it a bit more.”

Another big misconception among voters was that their names would stay on the voting list. They were also wrong.

Some slapdash solutions were applied on Tuesday to ensure residents voted.

Political parties helped connect voters with residents who would vouch for them. At times, those who assisted had never met the people for whom they vouched.

Polling clerks turned a blind eye to this, even when it was apparent the two residents had never met. Other Yukon Elections staff went as far as to round up strangers in the same district themselves, to ensure everyone voted.

It’s hard to quantify how many voters were turned away and were unable to find someone to vouch for them. But the problem appeared to be widespread.

Celia McBride greeted voters as they went to vote at the Westmark hotel downtown. She estimated 800 people went to vote. Fifty had trouble. Fewer than 20 didn’t vote in the end, by McBride’s estimate.

Moira Sauer worked at a polling station in Copperbelt North. She estimates approximately 20 voters were turned away during her shift.

Of those, about six appeared unable to find anyone to vouch for them.

“People were furious,” she said.

Critics note that the rigorous security checks imposed on the unenumerated stand in contrast to the lax rules applied to everyone else.

You don’t need to present ID at the polls if you’ve been enumerated. And you don’t need to present ID to enumerators when they arrive at your door, either.

Following all this controversy, Waugh expects the rules will be reviewed.

“We are responsive to people’s concerns, because it’s their election. We always review our processes. And I’m sure the newly elected members may have something to say about it as well.”

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