Guelph special ballot was valid: Elections Canada
Published Friday, April 15, 2011 10:47PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:29AM EDT
Elections Canada says while a special ballot station set up at the University of Guelph earlier this month was not pre-authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, it was still a legitimate vote.
The agency released a statement Friday amid accusations from the Conservative Party that there were irregularities at the April 13 special polling station and that the entire ballot process may not have been legitimate.
The Conservative Party has said party members were denied the right to appoint a scrutineer to oversee the process and that campaign material was present at the polling station, which is prohibited.
The party added that it had since learned that the Guelph poll was not even authorized by Elections Canada.
"The real issue was not the denial of procedural fairness at a legally authorized poll, but the fact that the poll was not authorized at all," the party said in a statement.
But in a statement of its own Friday, Elections Canada said while the special ballots were not pre-authorized, they can still be counted in the May 2 election.
"A special ballot coordinator, appointed by the local returning officer, oversaw the activities at the University of Guelph. All information at our disposal indicates that the votes were cast in a manner that respects the Canada Elections Act and are valid," the statement said.
The agency also said it was stopping all special ballots at universities.
The Tories released a follow-up statement to say they accepted the Elections Canada decision.
"While the Elections Canada statement confirms that what happened in Guelph lacked proper authorization, we applaud the decision not to disenfranchise University of Guelph students because of errors by the local Returning Officer. These student voters should not suffer because of mistakes by the local election officials," the party said.
"We urge all Canadians to vote, whether by special ballot, at advance polls, or on May 2."
Special ballots are sometimes set up ahead of elections to facilitate voting for those who face barriers of casting a ballot on election day or in advance polls, such as "snowbirds," aboriginals and those with physical disabilities. Using one for students – who are typically under-represented in elections – is also legitimate.
Asked about the matter at a morning rally in Thornhill, Ont., Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the party was not trying to discourage voting by special ballot, but wanted to ensure that Elections Canada rules were followed.
"Our concern is simply that the rules for advance polling, that all the rules of the election be respected and that is our sole concern in this particular matter," he said.
But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says the Tories' request to annul the 700 votes cast at the special ballot is another example of the party's contempt for the democratic process.
"A politician has two loyalties here: loyalty to his party and a loyalty to the democratic system," Ignatieff said. "I'd like to see some loyalty to the democratic system from the prime minister."
Ignatieff also commented on a published report that says an attempt was actually made to end the Guelph vote as it was happening.
The Guelph Mercury newspaper, citing several students who attended the vote, reports that the communications director for the Guelph Conservative candidate, Marty Burke, turned up at the balloting site and claimed the vote had violated the Elections Canada Act.
The communications director reportedly tried to snatch the ballot box away, but left empty-handed. The Conservative Party denies that any of its supporters touched a ballot box.
When asked about the allegation, Ignatieff said it is the latest in a "pattern" of Conservative conduct.
"First you have a prime minister who checks the Facebook page of people coming to meetings," Ignatieff said, referring to the young woman allegedly barred from a Conservative campaign stop in London, Ont. after an official spotted a photo with Ignatieff she had posted online.
"Then you have a Conservative operative trying to grab the ballot box at a university in a town where... students were mobilizing to get out the vote."
Friday's statement from the Conservative Party reiterates that none of the campaign's workers or volunteers touched a ballot or ballot box.
"The outlandish and unfounded claims being spread on the Internet are the product of desperation, and are most regrettable," the statement reads.