WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The Canadian territory of Yukon held an election earlier this week, only to have the result end in a stalemate, which can possibly only be resolved by—quite literally—pulling a name out of a hat.
After the polls closed and the ballots were counted on April 12, the incumbent Yukon Liberals and the Yukon Party were deadlocked at eight seats each, with the Yukon NDP holding two. With 19 ridings in total, however, the sticking place was Old Crow —Yukon’s northernmost and smallest jurisdiction, a fly-in only community with a standing population of a little over 200 people—which was tied: 78 votes for Yukon Liberal Party incumbent Pauline Frost and 78 for Yukon NDP representative Annie Blake.
The results were confirmed by Elections Yukon on April 15, triggering an application to the Supreme Court of Yukon to conduct a recount. That recount is supposed to happen no later than Monday.
If the Supreme Court confirms the tie, under Yukon law, “the election shall be decided immediately by the drawing of lots by the returning officer in the presence of the judge”—or, in layman's terms, drawing a name out of a hat. (Floyd McCormick, a former clerk of the legislature, told the CBC the receptacle does not necessarily have to be a hat by law, as “bins and raffle drums” are also acceptable.)
The outcome of the vote, however, could have far larger political implications than such a laissez-faire solution might imply; if Frost’s name is drawn, the Liberals take nine seats to form a (very slim) minority government. If Blake is drawn, the NDP win the riding to take three seats total and the Yukon Party and the Liberals remain tied, although the Liberals will likely have first crack at forming the government.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s an unsettling spot for voters in a territory which, although largely spared the ravages of the pandemic, continues to grapple with a tourism sector reeling from its fallout, along with long-unresolved housing, cost of living, child care and environmental issues.
Long-time Dawson City resident and editor of the Klondike Sun, Dan Davidson, said there had been a lot of “unnecessary speculation” about the results of the election, as he thinks the Liberals will form the government regardless “of whether (a hat pull) goes their way or not.”
On the matter of the hat-pull as a method of tie resolution, Davidson said he “didn’t like it” because it was democratically unsatisfying, and that he would rather have seen things go to a by-election, a view shared by Whitehorse resident Lewis Rifkind. Although Rifkind noted that could also be an imperfect solution, as it might result in a kind of riding-based bidding war, with the parties “promising all kinds of things” to court the Old Crow vote the second time around.
“I posted a picture online of the Harry Potter ‘Sorting Hat’—that’s my view on it,” Rifkind said. “It seems like a game of chance. Is this what our democracy has come to?”
“I mean, it basically comes down to Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw.”
Rifkind said he hopes if it comes down to a draw—and he thinks it almost certainly will, considering the recount only contains 156 votes—they will “preserve the hat” for posterity.
This isn’t even the first time a Yukon riding has had to be determined in this way; in a territory home to approximately 42,000 people spread out across an area about twice the size of the U.K. and represented by 19 ridings, every single vote counts in a way it never would in most southern elections. It’s not even the first time it’s happened in Old Crow, with the 1996 results in that riding also decided by a hat draw.
A similar event occurred in a riding in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, in 2015, where the outcome was decided by a coin toss, as per P.E.I.’s electoral law.
Yukoners are expected to know early next week which party will form their government.
Follow Lori Fox on Twitter.