LETTER TO THE EDITOR: MLA disputes editorial’s stance on poor voter turnout

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Dear editor, Your editorial in the April 5 edition of Yellowknifer, (“In YK, territorial elections are a joke”) is a disservice to voters because it includes false and incomplete information. First, the statement that voters won’t participate in greater numbers until “they have more say on who sits on cabinet” is nonsense.

 Julie Green, MLA for Yellowknife Centre disputes assertions made in Yellowknifer editorial about poor voter turnout.

None of the UK-origin parliaments provide for voters to directly elect cabinet members. In the NWT, MLAs provide more direction than in most other jurisdictions by voting on who will be in cabinet and having the ability to revoke executive council appointments.

Second, the voter turnout numbers are in fact uncertain in Yellowknife and all across the NWT. That is because voter lists are inflated with the names of people who have moved or died.

I experienced this problem firsthand in the last election. My riding of Yellowknife Centre includes a lot of transient renters. Many times the voters list had half a dozen names listed for a one-bedroom apartment. My challenge was to figure out who actually lived there – and sometimes their names were not on the voters list at all. The voters list also included people who had died. In order to get off the voters list, the voter has to contact the returning officer. Unsurprisingly, few voters make the effort. The voters list I received from Elections NWT bore little resemblance to the voters list I created by verifying it door to door.

Using research on Yellowknife voter data, the voters list is probably overstated by more than two thousand voters. There were 15,242 people on the NWT voters list in 2015, but census data indicates there were probably in the range of 13,000 eligible voters. The federal voters list and census numbers are different from the NWT data so uncertainty is a reality. An enumeration may resolve the problem of unreliable voters lists. The Elections and Plebiscite Act gives the chief electoral officer the authority to carry out an enumeration of voters, but there hasn’t been an enumeration in Yellowknife since 2007.

In her report on the 2015 election, the chief electoral officer Nicole Latour, recommended that the voters list be revised over a longer period of time leading up to the election, with changes shared with candidates and returning officers in real time. She concluded ‘’the accuracy of the list and voter turnout numbers would benefit from allowing continual refinement of the list.” The Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures endorsed this change and it has been reflected in changes to the Elections and Plebiscites Act passed last year.

In addition to inviting first-time voters to register, we have to ensure that the voters list itself is constantly updated. Only then will we know how many people vote.