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Potential Delay of Territorial Election: Frequently Asked Questions

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Dunbar, has recommended to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the NWT that the Territorial General Election scheduled for October 3, 2023, be delayed until mid-November due to the current wildfire situation in the Northwest Territories.

The Speaker will recall the Legislative Assembly on Monday, August 28, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. The purpose of this sitting will be to pass legislation to delay the General Election until early November 2023, and pass a supplementary appropriation for wildfire-related costs. If the Assembly is unable to sit in Yellowknife, the Assembly will sit in Inuvik, with remote participation for Members unable to travel.

What is the reasoning behind delaying the election to mid-November?

With over 65 per cent of the NWT’s population currently displaced, “the logistics and people required to run an election are significant, and in the current circumstances, there are a number of ridings where we would not be in a position to safely proceed on September 4,” said Dunbar on August 21.

The November date was selected for multiple reasons. It is consistent with the requirement under the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act that no Assembly may continue for more than 4 years from the day after the return of the writs of the last election. The writs of election in 2019 were returned on October 15th, 2019. A November election means the 19th Assembly will be dissolved on October 15th, 2023, one day before the prescribed deadline.

 While we do not have any information on when the evacuations will end, past precedents indicate a month is possible. Elections NWT recommended a six-week delay, to allow for a potential month-long evacuation, while not unduly delaying the election. A further consideration was the weather and temperatures later in November and December, as weather can cause logistical challenges for getting election materials into communities, and campaigning. Elections were held in later November (2003 and 2015) and December (1999). December is also when hamlet elections are scheduled to be held.

How far back can the election be pushed?

There are no provisions that would allow for an indeterminate delay. A Legislative Assembly can only go for 4 years, under the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. The Clerk of the Assembly is better placed to speak to that provision.
If the election is postponed, how will that affect the nomination process?

The nomination process will also be delayed if the election is postponed. The nomination period is defined as the first five days of the election, from the issuing of the writs on the Monday (29 days before election day) until 2pm on the Friday (25 days before election day).

What other elements of the election will be affected by the delay?

If the election is delayed, there will be a knock-on effect for several elements of the election process, including the Pre-Election Spending Period and the Absentee Ballot Application Period. Details of these changes will be proactively presented to the public as soon as there is a definitive date for the election.

Well in advance of the evacuations, Elections NWT has been working on various initiatives to remove barriers to voting. These include an online absentee ballot, meaning that voters can cast their ballot on their mobile devices or computers through a secure internet platform. We have also developed expanded voting opportunities in Offices of the Returning Officers, to allow residents from small communities to cast ballots for their home district in regional centres. A new rebate program is available for candidates who spend their own money on their campaign, allowing candidates to claim up to 50 per cent of eligible expenses, to a maximum of $3,000.

What happens if the legislation to delay the election is not passed?

If legislation is not passed, the 19th Assembly will be dissolved on September 3, 2023. The Territorial General Election would proceed on October 3, 2023. However, the Chief Electoral Officer has advised that he would need to withdraw the writ of election in any riding subject to an evacuation order. This would delay the election in that riding for a period of up to three months. This could result in Members being elected on different days between October and December 2023.

Media seeking to speak with Mr. Dunbar about the details of his recommendation, the process involved in delaying the election, and other general election concerns, are asked to please contact him via Elections NWT's Communications Officer, Matthew Mallon, at