Eyes on Lac La Ronge Indian Band as election nears

Lac La Ronge Indian Band voters entering polls this month will be among the first to cast ballots during the COVID-19 crisis.

That means the band will be an early example of how to run an election in the middle of a pandemic for municipalities set to vote this fall.

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To do that safely, Milton Burns, the band’s electoral officer, has introduced a suite of new measures. Online polls open on Monday and in-person voting takes place on May 25 and 26.

“(The priority is) safety. We have a lot of elderly voters and most of our elderly voters like to vote by paper because that’s what they’re used to. They’re not used to computers and that,” he said.

As a precaution this month, those voters will enter one door and leave through another to avoid passing by others. They’re also expected to wear their own protective equipment and use their own pencils as they cast their ballots. Hand sanitizer will be available.

Only 10 people, including elections staff, will be allowed in the room at the same time. Cleaning staff will regularly wipe down voting areas, while security staff monitor the situation.

For the first time, the band has also offered online voting, starting on Monday. The band hired OneFeather, a Vancouver-based firm, to handle the online option.

As the election nears, Burns said other municipalities in Saskatchewan — and places in British Columbia and Alberta — will be watching how it goes.

“They’re trying to watch what everybody does. They just phone and ask a few questions about how we do it and what we did,” he said.

While fall may seem far off for communities weathering a pandemic, the band could be a case study as municipalities weigh their options.

For example, Melfort’s city clerk, Heather Audette, said mail-in ballots the municipality rolled out two elections ago will be a key tool this fall.

“They’re very flexible. We’ve used them for hospital, homebound voting and for people that were unable to attend advance polls or on election day,” she wrote in an email.

Paula Muench, chief administrative officer for the Northern Town of Creighton, noted the fall election is months away, and said any decisions will be made by the provincial government.

“We’ll watch to see how it unfolds. It all depends on what the circumstances are at the time,” she said, noting other options may be available, including mail-in ballots.

Lac La Ronge Indian Band already had to postpone its election in March to protect the health of band members, and it could happen again.

“We’re careful with everything, but if anything breaks in the north-central region, we’ll have to postpone it again,” Burns said.

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