Elections Yukon has launched online voter registration and unrestricted mail-in ballots in anticipation of next year’s territorial election.
“Our mission is to be voter-centric and we’re working very hard to make that happen,” said Max Harvey, the Yukon’s chief electoral officer.
The next territorial election must be called before Nov. 18, 2021. The newly-amended Elections Act, which passed in the legislature in the fall, allowed for new initiatives that may bolster voter turn-out.
According to Harvey, about 5,000 voters weren’t registered in the 2016 election, while another 5,000 Yukoners were registered but didn’t vote.
Those are big numbers with the potential to affect the next election, Harvey explained. The 2016 election saw 12 districts won by less than 50 votes. Two Liberal seats were won by seven votes — without which, they would have formed a minority government.
“If you look at the history of Yukon elections, there’s a lot of close races,” Harvey said.
“This is the nature of close races, every vote counts.”
The Yukon’s previous system of registering voters by door-to-door census saw a lot of names missed, fuelling the initiative to move voter registration online.
“The list was inaccurate and there were lots of duplicates,” Harvey said.
The online voter registration was launched on Dec. 8. In an effort to enlist the 5,000 voters missed four years ago, Yukoners are asked to register on electionsyukon.ca. Yukoners who voted last year can check that their registration is accurate.
Harvey noted that transitioning the old register to the online register saw some errors and changes, which means that people who should be registered may not be — and everyone should check.
Once Yukoners complete the online registration, they can expect a voter information card with their polling place early in the election. That simple reminder of the date and location for voting will hopefully increase the number of voters, Harvey said.
“We believe just that card will help people and remove some of the mystery for some to go and vote,” he said.
Yukoners who are 16 and 17 years old can also register to vote online, in another new initiative. They will be automatically added to the list of electors on their eighteenth birthday.
“We are very inspired by this opportunity to register (youth) because it gets them engaged in the election process,” Harvey said.
The new Elections Act also removed barriers to mail-in ballots. Previously, mail-in ballots were restricted except under extenuating circumstances.
In the upcoming election, anyone will be allowed to vote by mail or returning office.
“Special ballots have seen a dramatic rise … in jurisdictions across Canada, it’s gone 10 or 20 times the uptake,” Harvey said.
Elections Yukon is expecting “at least triple” the number of special ballots received in the last election, particularly as it will take place in a pandemic or post-pandemic world.
“That’s an exciting option for some,” Harvey said.
Elections Yukon has issued further recommendations to the legislative assembly, which are awaiting response. Harvey said that online registration and special ballots were his office’s two chief concerns.
“There are a number (of recommendations) that we will be looking at after the next election, for some upgrades,” Harvey said.
“As it now stands, we’re going forward and we’re not impeded by any kind of statutory obstacles to a vote.”
Premier Sandy Silver hasn’t revealed when his government will call the election, in spite of multiple requests for increased transparency from opposition members in the House.
Speaking with reports on Oct. 22, Silver said his cabinet is “focused on governing.”
“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel as far as what triggers an election,” Silver said.
“Every jurisdiction is going to be talking about the exact same things. You all know what those things are: polling, do we go full term? You know, lots of different questions.”
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