Band members can now vote until 8 p.m. NT on Friday
CBC News · Posted: Oct 18, 2021 7:00 PM NT | Last Updated: October 19
Qalipu band manager Keith Goulding says online and phone voting was planned long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and made for a smooth election so far. (Colleen Connors/CBC)
The voting is now open in the Qalipu First Nation band council election, but band members won’t be heading to polling stations to cast their ballots.
Keith Goulding, band manager for the Newfoundland Mi’kmaw band, says members voted to move to phone and online voting as part of a referendum during the council election in 2018 — well before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were doing it more so that we could find a better way of reaching members that are living off island or are living in communities that are much more isolated from the rest of the main communities,” he said.
“We didn’t get great voter turnout — 25 per cent I think was the best voter turnout we had in our last election — so we were trying to find a way of increasing voter turnout, increasing member access to the vote.”
Having a plan to move away from in-person voting already in place, Goulding said, made things easy during the pandemic.
He said the band is working with a voting company called Intelivote, which allows an extended voting window that’s open 24 hours a day until polls close at 8 p.m. NT on Friday.
The system is the same one already in use by the provincial Liberal party and some unions in the province, according to Goulding.
“[A] hundred thousand voters in Newfoundland and Labrador have already used this system, so it’s not as foreign a concept as I even thought it was when we started going down this road,” he said.
Candidates for Chief of the Qalipu First Nation have signs up all over Corner Brook, Stephenville and other west coast and central communities. (Colleen Connors/CBC )
The 20,765 Qalipu members who are eligible to vote will receive a letter or email with a PIN and voting instructions, Goulding said.
Once a member has received their PIN, they can either vote online or by calling a toll-free number and have their say for band chief, vice-chief and ward councillor.
Qalipu First Nation membership top issue in race for chief, say candidates
Goulding said the voting system provides more flexibility, as well as support from Intelivote to provide assistance or reissue a PIN, if necessary.
And with results tabulated electronically and no need to count ballots by hand, he said, the band should have the election results within about 30 minutes of the polls closing.
Referendum on extending terms
In addition to voting for council members, the election also includes a referendum question about extending the term of office for the band council from three years to four.
Goulding said a four-year term is more in line with the band’s strategic planning and aligns term lengths with other levels of government.
“With a band the size and the scope of this one, for a council to go through the nuances of what they have to do in a yearly cycle, it takes them the full year, they have to experience the year, so you really lose the first year to just a learning curve,” he said.
“This would actually give you another year, a year and a bit of time for council to actually make sure their vision comes to fruition.”
And while people may joke that they’re tired of elections after already voting federally, provincially and municipally this year, Goulding said casting a vote for band council is an important process that happens on fixed dates.
“As a tribal citizen of Qalipu First Nation, we don’t just have a right to vote, I think we have a responsibility to vote. I take that responsibility very seriously,” he said.
“As I often say to people, ‘Hey, we decided to have ours first, the provincial and federal government decided to jump our coattails.’ They thought it was a good time to have one so they decided to do theirs as well.”