The chief electoral officer for the NWT says administrative difficulties could potentially arise if federal, municipal and territorial elections all occur within October 2015, causing problems for voters, those running campaigns and elections staff.
David Brock, whose job entails advising caucus on considerations involving upcoming elections, told The Journal that there are several possible outcomes to keep in mind when looking at the concurrent elections scheduled for next fall.
Right now, the territorial election is slated for Oct. 5, 2015, while polling days for both federal and municipal elections – for six cities, towns and villages, along with school boards – are scheduled for Oct. 19.
Legislation in the NWT currently maintains a fixed election schedule, although a recent motion passed in the Legislative Assembly asks the federal government for authority to change the NWT Act to allow MLAs flexibility around election planning.
Brock said a number of administrative challenges could arise that would potentially have an impact on the abilities of election management bodies to ensure an equal playing field for candidates and voter participation in all the elections.
For example, election management bodies need to have offices and polling stations with wheelchair access, but an onslaught of concurrent campaigns could see limited availability.
“In some communities we know that there is a dearth of available office space with level access, and so with both election management bodies as well as candidates for all of these different election campaigns…it may be difficult for some or all parties to find level access office space and/or polling stations – particularly office space,” he said.
Another consideration, Brock said, could involve communication of rules and processes for voters at polling stations and candidates running campaigns.
“With three elections taking place overlapping, there is the consideration that there’s a confined or finite amount of space for communications and that some confusion could result from different rules that apply to different elections,” he said.
For example, recently proposed amendments to the federal elections act would see the ability to vouch for someone at the polls eliminated, though vouching continues to be permitted in the NWT and municipal elections even allow people to vote by proxy.
“There’s three different methods that affect how individuals identify themselves and cast their ballots, which again could sow some confusion as to why one method is acceptable at one polling station on one day and not acceptable in another field,” Brock said. “The risk is of course that it might raise a barrier to access, and one of our objectives is obviously to have as high a voter turnout as possible.”
Having a large amount of signs in a community vying for presence on the limited space allotted for campaign use is another example, he said.
“I think it is fair to state that there is the possibility to have those messages conflated. Some electors may wonder who’s running for office in which election.”
Brock said another consideration sees the potential positive in holding concurrent elections, which has been linked to higher voter participation, though he noted that numerous factors contribute to turnout.
“Electors may be more likely to know that an election is occurring,” he said. “What effect that has is not certain.”
He said combined polling stations, recently brought up as an opportunity for convenience and cost effectiveness amid the debate on a delayed election, has not been proposed but would be considered if brought forward to Elections NWT.
Brock would not say what advice he gave to MLAs, as those meetings are held in confidence.
He said his office will do as much as possible to provide clarity for voters, candidates and elections staff of the rules regardless of whether or not the territorial election date is amended.