Head of Elections Nunavut explains how May 9 lands vote will work
Agency half-way through the hiring of about 150 polling station workers
Election Nunavut hopes for a strong turnout from Nunavut municipal voters as it gears up for the May 9 plebiscite that will determine if municipalities may sell lands to private owners, Nunavut’s chief electoral officer, Sandy Kusugak, said Jan. 25.
But beyond that, the electoral agency can’t predict whether the expected turnout will be better than the first lands referendum on April 10, 1995, when voters in every community chose to reject fee simple land ownership.
That’s because public interest in this year’s municipal lands vote is difficult to measure, Kusugak said.
The 1995 referendum, Kusugak said, “was not as well documented,” but she believes turnout that year was “not terribly high.”
The Government of Nunavut, with a mandatory 20-year moratorium on the vote set to expire, announced early in 2014 that they would hold another vote on the issue within the life of the current legislative assembly.
Elections Nunavut will administer the plebiscite. Its mandate is to run the polls, as well as provide neutral information to voters by way of brochures and a website.
And that’s important, because, under Nunavut’s Plebiscite Act, municipal councils can choose to publically support either a yes vote or a no vote.
“Having said that CGS has to be neutral, that doesn’t mean the same things for municipalities. They can have whatever meetings they want and they could take a ‘yes or no’ stand,” Kusugak said.
“There’s nothing stopping them from that, they’re not required to be neutral. They may be [neutral], but it’s not a problem if they’re not.”
About 150 Elections Nunavut employees, Kusugak estimated, will help run the vote on May 9.
The agency is about halfway through its appointment of elections officers, who will be dispersed across the 25 Nunavut communities holding the plebiscite.
“We need really good people,” she said, adding that bilingual services will be guaranteed at all polling stations.
The news conference, held by Kusugak Jan. 25, comes as the GN begins ramping up public awareness before the vote.
Earlier this month, the Department of Community and Government Services announced a public engagement tour that will visit each Nunavut community in the coming months.
That follows earlier criticism by Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes, now minister of housing, who in the fall sitting of the legislature said his constituents had received no information.
In December, the GN released the text of the ballot question:
“Do you want the municipality of [city or hamlet name] to be able to sell municipal lands?”
A simple 50 per cent plus one majority in each community will decide the vote.
In the event of a yes vote, it will be up to the hamlet or city council to decide which lands to sell, if any.
Advanced polling stations will open May 2 from 12 noon to 7 p.m.
Voters living outside their community may vote by special ballot, which can be obtained from Elections Nunavut offices.
Elections Nunavut advises residents requiring special ballots to ask for one as soon as their offices open April 1.
On voting day, May 9, polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in each community.