An off-reserve band member with the Potlotek First Nation in Nova Scotia says her band is denying her democratic right to vote in the band election being held today because she didn’t receive a mail-in ballot.
Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, who lives and works in Halifax, said she called the Potlotek band office in Cape Breton on Monday to find out why she didn’t receive her mail-in ballot. That’s when she found out that mail-in ballots were only sent to off-reserve band members who called to request one be mailed to them.
“I learned on Monday, this past Monday that you were supposed to call in to request the ballot,” Doyle-Bedwell, who is a lawyer and an associate professor of Indigenous Studies at Dalhousie University, said during an interview Thursday. “They weren’t automatically sending them out,” she said.
She said she also learned through a post on Facebook this week that Potlotek held an advance poll on Wednesday for band members to vote in the August 5th election.
Doyle-Bedwell said she didn’t receive any notice from Potlotek or the electoral officer, Doreen Saulis, informing her of any procedural change in sending out packages to off-reserve for nominations, voting and the advance poll.
The only way she says she can vote in today’s election is if she drives three and a half hours from Halifax to Potlotek, also known as Chapel Island.
“Well, I’m working so it’s a matter of trying to take time off at a late date,” Doyle-Bedwell explained. “But I’m thinking about other people in Halifax and other places,” she added.
“I have cousins that live in Maine, live in Saskatchewan, live in Massachusetts who are not going to be able to drive up, who did not get ballots,” she said.
“I really feel discriminated against. I feel really excluded. I don’t like the idea of not being able to vote,” Doyle-Bedwell said.
Electoral officer required to send notice 65 days before election
Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall is running for re-election in today’s election. His only challenger for the position of chief is John Duncan Johnson, Jr. Four of the six band councillors are also seeking re-election to council. They are Arthur Johnson, Basil Johnson, George Johnson and Wayne Johnson. They are among 43 candidates running for six seats on council.
According to the Indian Act and Indian Band election regulations, the electoral officer is required to send an election notice to off-reserve band members at least 65 days before election is held. The First Nation is responsible for providing addresses for off-reserve band members eligible to vote to the electoral officer.
The electoral officer is also required to send off-reserve band members two separate packages at two different intervals. The first interval is 65 days before the election in which the first package is sent to off-reserve band members. It consists of an election notice, the date and location of the nomination meeting and the election, information on how electors may nominate candidates for chief and council in person or through the mail and advises electors they can vote by mail-in ballot.
The second package sent to off-reserve band members at least 35 days before the election. It contains a mail-in ballot and a postage paid return envelope. Off-reserve band members can send their ballot by mail but it must reach the electoral officer prior to the close of the polls on the day of the election.
According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs, or INAC, it is the responsibility of the First Nation to maintain addresses for off-reserve band members and provide that list to the electoral officer. A department spokesperson said in an email that “electors who do not receive these packages are responsible for contacting the electoral officer and providing him or her with their address.”
“The electoral officer is not required to take any extraordinary means to contact electors, update addresses or obtain additional ones,” the spokesperson wrote.
Kukukwes.com contacted electoral officer Doreen Saulis and sent questions via email asking for details about the notices and packages sent to off-reserve band members for the Potlotek election. Kukukwes.com did not receive a response from Saulis Friday morning before the polls opened in Potlotek First Nation.
Doyle-Bedwell said she gave Potlotek First Nation her current address so she could receive the packages for the August 5th election. She said she is considering filing a complaint with INAC.
“If they (Potlotek and the electoral officer) make all the arrangements and they inform me of what needs to be done and they make it clear and I choose not to vote, that’s one thing,” Doyle-Bedwell said.
“But for me not to know, not to be informed, find out at the last minute and then be prevented from voting, I think that’s wrong.”