Dead, Wed, Or Gone: YK’s Voters List Problem

Passing away won’t necessarily get you off the Elections NWT list

There’s no doubt that voter turnout was significantly down this election, although perhaps not as much as the reported numbers suggest. According to two recently elected MLAs, the voters list contains far more names than actual voters – in some cases hundreds more.

Kieron Testart, newly elected in Kam Lake, says he crossed upwards of 500 people off the voters list after going door to door. In one slightly humorous circumstance, what appeared to be three different women living at a single address with same first name and different last names turned out to be one woman listed under her maiden name, the name of her first husband and the name of her second husband.

Glen Abernethy saw similar things in his Great Slave riding, where he says he crossed around 200 people off the list. One two-bedroom apartment listing 12 inhabitants turned out to have a single occupant, he says. Other addresses listed people who were deceased.

“Voter turnout was still down, no questions,” says Abernethy, pointing to more than 100 fewer votes cast in his riding compared to 2011. “But I don’t believe [the voters lists] can give an accurate account of how much…. It would help if we had some sense of what the actual trend is.”

So why the wonky numbers?

“Our list is only as clean as the data we get,” explains Nicole Latour, the NWT’s Chief Electoral Officer. In the past, Elections NWT “enumerated” – i.e. periodically went door to door to update the voters list. But this hasn’t been done since 2007. Instead, the NWT, like most jurisdictions across the country, has switched to a ‘living list,’ populated over time with data from numerous sources.

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In an age with highly mobile individuals and plenty of data buzzing around, it makes little sense conducting expensive door-to-door enumerations, only to have incorrect information within a short period of time, or so the argument goes.  

“Our primary data sources are Elections Canada, and different agencies: HSS medical cards, vital statistics for deceased, student finance, the City of Yellowknife,” says Latour.

The problem is that if the data they get from these organizations is bad, the voters lists will be iffy as well. And with the number of people moving to and leaving Yellowknife, as well as relocating within town, even health card data or Elections Canada data, gleaned largely from Revenue Canada, can be widely incorrect.

“It’s not a perfect system, but it’s not a bad one,” says Latour, noting that the lists are also updated after the election when people point out inconsistencies on their voter I.D. cards or with data gleaned from the oaths people have to sign at the polls if they’re not on the voters list. That said, she was quick to add that any lists updated by candidates during the campaign would be much appreciated by the data crunchers at Elections NWT.  

In the grand scheme of things, having an out-of-date voters list isn’t a huge problem; although not knowing who you’re talking to at the doorstep or asking to speak with people who are long dead can be, in Abernethy’s words, “wildly embarrassing.”

The main problem is that it makes it difficult to assess voter turnout as a percentage of total eligible voters. Testart, for his part, claims that the voter turnout in Kam Lake, once you remove 500 odd people from the riding’s voters list, is actually about 35 to 40 percent, as opposed to the 25 percent reported by Elections NWT. Still pretty bad. But perhaps Yellowknifers are a tad more democratically-minded than Monday’s numbers would suggests.  

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