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Thursday, September 15, 2011

N.W.T. inmates can cast ballots in jail

N.W.T. inmates can cast ballots in jail


CBC News
Posted: Sep 15, 2011 9:53 AM MT
Last Updated: Sep 15, 2011 9:45 AM MT

Elections NWT will set up special "multi-district" polls in jail for the first time so inmates can cast ballots in next month's territorial election.

Chief elections officer David Brock said he believes the Northwest Territories is the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement this kind of poll.

They will be located in four Northwest Territories correctional facilities, as well as at three Aurora College campuses for students living away from their home riding.

"It's... been clarified by the Supreme Court that inmates have the right to vote. And so our objective is to get a ballot into the hands of every eligible elector, regardless of where they reside," Brock said.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2002 that prisoners cannot be denied the right to vote, but that doesn't mean inmates actually cast their ballots in boxes on voting day. Elsewhere in Canada, and previously in the N.W.T., prisoners typically vote by some kind of special ballot, either mailing it in ahead of time or handing an envelope with their ballot inside to a prison staffer or election official.

Voting by special ballot usually requires more laborious paperwork. But next month, for the first time in the territory's history, Elections NWT officers will be going into jails to set up polling places, making it easier for the 270 adult inmates to exercise their democratic right.

The executive director of the N.W.T. John Howard Society, a group that advocates for prisoners' rights, said making voting easier for inmates is a positive change.

"The more we marginalize them, the less safe we are in our society. So it's important to keep everybody included in all aspects of society," said Lydia Bardak, also a Yellowknife city councillor.

A change to the N.W.T.'s Elections Elections and Plebiscites Act implemented in May 2010 makes the multi-district polls possible.

Inmates in the four corrections facilities will be able to vote on Sept 27 or 28. Students will be able to vote at the Aurora College campuses on Sept. 27. The votes will count toward their home riding, not the riding where they're incarcerated or studying.

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