Election 2015 woes: from pre-marked ballots to recounts

A woman holding a baby enters a polling station to vote in Calgary, Alberta on October 19, 2015.
A woman holding a baby enters a polling station to vote in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015. Canadians go to the polls for a federal election on Monday. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Phew! The long federal election campaign is over and the results are here. Canada voted in a majority Liberal government. In many ways, this is only the beginning: a bright and promising beginning for change. Before exploring what the new government will look like and which Conservative bills of controversy will get repealed with a new leader on the block, let’s look at the election itself. Not surprisingly, a number of voters have reported instances of electoral malpractice (or mishaps if you will) , which may run afoul of the Elections Act and warrant further investigation by Elections Canada.

First off, we have reports of pre-marked ballots. What else is new, you may be thinking. Complaints have surfaced from around the country where voters were given ballots that were not really blank. Some are alleged to have carried ink smears, while some were a bit more questionable. A voter in Kitchener, Ont. made a complaint to Elections Canada because his ballot had an “X” mark beside the Conservative candidate.

Another voter in Halifax found her ballot marked with what she called: “a clearly marked X.” Elections Canada says she may have been mistakenly handled a spoiled ballot. A spoiled ballot is created when a voter marks a ballot and then tells the officials he/she has made a mistake and gets a new one. Under s. 152 of the Elections Act, a voter is allowed only one spoiled ballot.

There were also reports from a student from Peterborough and a teacher from Vancouver who allege to have been given pre-marked ballots during the advance polls. The teacher was voting in the Vancouver Quadra riding. Her first ballot carried a marking resembling half of an “X” beside the Conservative party candidate.  She was given a second ballot, which carried a similar mark beside the Green party candidate. She cast her vote on the third ballot. 

Forging a ballot and printing unauthorized ballots are prohibited under s.126 of the Elections Act. The penalty for forging a ballot is up to $5000 in fine, up to six months in jail, or both.

In addition to pre-marked ballots, another observed source of confusion was the hours of voting. Voting information cards listed polling stations that were not open 12 hours as mandated by s. 128 of the Elections Act.  While, some were mobile polling stations (e.g. Ontario’s Vaughan-Woodbridge) geared towards the elderly and those in health care facilities, they confused many voters nonetheless. Additionally, some polling stations didn't open on time. For instance, the riding of Winnipeg Centre opened an hour late because a big number of its staff couldn’t make it to the location. One voter in the Toronto Spadina-Fort York riding was turned away shortly after 9:30 a.m. and was told to come back in an hour because the deputy returning officer wasn’t there at 9:30 a.m.

Additionally, a number of polling stations including six First Nations ridings ran out of ballots.

In more exciting poll drama, the Elmwood-Transcona riding in Alberta may be subject to a recount. Under s. 300 of the Elections Act, a recount must be automatically done when the margin of difference is less than 1/1000th of the total votes cast. The total number of votes in this riding was 42,900. An automatic recount would require a margin of difference of 43 votes or less. The winner, NDP candidate Daniel Blaikie, won this riding by 53 votes. This means no automatic recount is warranted but the runner up, Conservative candidate Lawrence Toet, may still ask for a recount.

It’s possible for more instances of electoral malpractice and potential fraud and voter suppression stories to come out in the coming weeks.

Overall, the 2015 election enjoyed a great turn out: the highest since 1993, more than 20 years ago. Canadians are to be applauded for exercising their democratic vote. All else is secondary.

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