The Membertou Band in Nova Scotia is the first band in Atlantic Canada trying out a new option for band members to vote in an upcoming referendum on its Family Homes Law.
For the first time, band members in Membertou have the option of voting online on whether to accept or reject band’s Family Homes Law. The other options include voting by mail in ballot or in person in Membertou April 29-30.
“We’ve enabled Internet voting so that people, no matter where they are, if they’re busy or going away, can vote on this particular Family Homes Law,” explained Chris LaPorte, electoral officer for Membertou.
Membertou is using a U.S.-based online company, Vote-Now.com, to handle the online portion of the referendum vote. Voters can log onto the website to register to vote. If the information they enter matches the information provided to the company by the electoral officer, they can enter their choice to either approve or reject the property law.
As the electoral officer, LaPorte says he can keep track of band members who choose to vote online. The company, he says, upholds the confidentiality of the voting process.
“The only thing I don’t get is who voted yes or not. I do not get that information until the closing of the polls,” LaPorte explained.
“And even then, I still don’t know who voted yes and who voted no.”
Membertou developed own law on matrimonial property rights
Dan Christmas, Senior Advisor for Membertou, says it’s important for all band members eligible to vote to participate in this referendum on the Family Homes Law.
“Come June 19 of this year, the provisional federal rules on matrimonial rights by default will apply to First Nations,” Christmas explained.
For the past three years, the Membertou band, through a community-driven governance committee, has been developing its own matrimonial property rights laws which was renamed the Family Homes Law.
“Community members expressed some concern over certain aspects of the provisional federal rules,” Christmas explained.
“We began to look at the option of enacting our own law just to ensure that the provisional federal rules don’t automatically apply to Membertou,” he said.
Membertou’s Family Homes Law puts more emphasis on married relationships to acquire property rights, Christmas explained.
In the event a couple separates and a judge has to determine which spouse occupies the home on-reserve, Membertou’s law states the judge has to take into consideration the best interest of the children.
“Under the federal provisional law, that provision was not there,” Christmas said.
In order for the Family Homes Law to pass, Membertou needs to meet certain criteria. In order for the referendum to be valid, the band needs at least 25 per cent of 972 eligible voters to participate. Of those who do cast ballots, 50 per cent of voters plus one need to vote in favour of the law in order for it to pass.
The band chose to include online voting in this referendum so it could reach as many off-reserve band members as possible LaPorte said. However, he says, a lot of band members living on reserve are opting to cast their ballot online.
“A lot of local people are voting this way,” LaPorte said.
Chrissy Christmas, who lives in Membertou, is one of many on-reserve band members who has already voted in the referendum using the online option.
“It’s very convenient for me, especially where I’m always busy,” the 37-year-old mother of two explained.
“I didn’t have to go anywhere. I just had to stay at home, you know and vote on my own time,” she said.
Given the popularity of the online voting option, LaPorte says Membertou may include that choice in future band referendums or band elections.