Assistant city clerk Norma Felker talks to Whitehorse city councillors during a standing committee meeting on May 28. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse politicians ponder proxy polling

‘Why do we care? Why is this a big deal?’

Twelve people voted by proxy in the last municipal election. Why then, asked Coun. Roslyn Woodcock at the May 28 standing committees meeting, has proxy voting been such a concern for Whitehorse city council in recent weeks?

Mayor and council are considering an elections procedures bylaw, which lays out the regulations and processes for the 2018 municipal election. Included in the bylaw is a section on proxy voting.

Proxy voting is when someone delegates their voting power to another person so that person can vote in their absence.

Council has repeatedly raised concerns, including potential misuse by proxy voters.

“Why do we care?” asked Woodcock, saying she assumed the number 12 was standard for proxy votes cast. “Why is this a big deal?”

“It’s a big deal because that’s 12 people who would otherwise not be able to vote,” said Norma Felker, assistant city clerk. “And it is everybody’s right to vote and it is also everybody’s responsibility to vote.”

“Why would we be concerned enough to make a fuss about the proxy?” Woodcock asked. “Because it’s in place now. Why wouldn’t we want it?”

“I don’t understand any reason why we would not want it,” said Felker. “Because the assumption is always going to be that if you appoint somebody to be your proxy you are going to appoint somebody that you trust to vote as you wish them to vote.”

In the last election, Felker said no fewer than four ballots came in after the polls closed last year, three of which had been couriered by residents who were not in town to vote.

“Due to the vagaries of Canada Post, and the fact that, not only Canada Post, but other courier companies do not include Whitehorse in their guaranteed delivery schedules, we do not have a way to make sure that we have a way to mail a ballot out and get it back in time to be counted,” said Felker.

Coun. Samson Hartland had previously suggested online voting as an option for those who might be out of town during the election, but this week Felker said the process for introducing online and telephone voting is lengthy.

If council wanted to establish it for the 2021 election, for example, she said city staff would have to start working on it now.

Councillors Betty Irwin and Dan Boyd questioned Felker around the type of proxy allowed under the bylaw. Felker explained that the “limited” proxy vote allowed differs from a “general” proxy. While general allows a proxy voter to vote for a candidate of their choosing, limited gives direct instruction on how to cast a vote.

Felker said the process is regulated, with proxy forms available as early as the first week of August. She also told council that an individual can only be a proxy voter for one resident. People can’t go out and get four or five proxies.

Hartland said he wasn’t sold on including proxy voting as an option, and said he’s interested in considering online or over-the-phone voting in future elections. Boyd said he’d be interested in keeping the proxy section in the bylaw with some tighter language that makes clear limited proxy is the type allowed.

The bylaw will come back for a vote in June.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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