Preparing for an election
Cazon back in familiar position as returning officer

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Oct 22/99) - Whenever there's an election, Rita Cazon plays a significant role.

As returning officer for the Nahendeh region for the third consecutive territorial election, she has a good command of the detailed job. Dealing with technical issues such as proxy voting, mail-in ballots, revisions to the voters' list and nominations, Cazon is inundated with forms.

"There's a form for everything," she said while in her office, located in the former Liidli Kue First Nation's office. Cazon, who officially opens the doors on Friday, has a large calendar highlighting the 45 days leading up to the election and the major events along the way. Friday is an important day because it marks the opening of nominations.

Another meaningful day is Nov. 25, when advance polls will be held in Fort Simpson and Fort Liard.

Cazon keeps track of the dates and the 33 people (including enumerators) working under her. Being returning officer for the Nahendeh region means she has six communities to oversee -- Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, Trout Lake, Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte and Wrigley. She appoints deputy returning officers and poll clerks in each community. Interpreters also have to be on staff in Fort Liard and Fort Simpson. Cazon also has to be sure polling stations are established all six communities. Fort Simpson actually has three polling stations -- north, central and south.

Returning officers take a refresher course before each election and they are brought up to date on amendments to the Elections Act. A new feature this year is the option of casting a ballot in the office of the returning officer between Nov. 22 and Dec. 3.

"I think that's going to do a lot of good," she said. "There are a lot of people travelling, especially in this area at that time."

Cazon will know whether an election will be necessary in the Nahendeh region on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. when nominations close. Incumbent Jim Antoine was acclaimed to the position of MLA when no one opposed him last time. Another acclamation would result in less work and less pay for Cazon unless she goes on to Yellowknife to help out as she did in 1995.

She started working with elections 21 years ago while living in Alberta. She was later appointed returning officer in the NWT by Ottawa and then by the GNWT when it took jurisdiction over elections, she said.

"I've been appointed and it's usually 'til the day you die, you move or you decide not to do it anymore," she said, adding that she has also been involved in a number of band and municipal elections.

As the big day approaches, the suspense and tension begins to mount. On Dec. 6, Cazon said she will be up at 6 a.m. and will be ready for anything.

"And you're nervous," she admitted. "'Is everything going to be OK today?' And you say this little prayer ... It's a long day. I will stay in the office and drink lots of coffee."

She recalled that the first territorial election she worked, bad weather hit the region and the ballot boxes couldn't be flown to Jean Marie River. They were finally delivered by helicopter when there was a break in the weather.

Cazon hopes that won't occur again, but she will be answering any urgent calls that come in from the communities.

"When they call, they need answers now," she said. The answers she can't provide immediately, she will likely be able to find in her Returning Officers Operational Manual or in the Elections Act.

"This is my bible. This is where everything is," she said, holding up the operational manual. "If you go by this, nothing will go wrong."

Once the deputy returning officer, polling clerk and scrutineer are through counting and sealing the ballots, they contact Cazon, who calls or faxes Yellowknife with the results. Then her job draws to a close, at least until the next election.