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City of Vancouver plans to destroy election ballots this week

Activist calls for delay until staff review
Janice Mackenzie
City clerk Janice Mackenzie, who doubled as the 2014 city election officer, said there were 7,100 spoiled ballots in last fall’s vote. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A longtime city hall observer wants the city to hold off this week on destroying the ballots from the 2014 civic election until the public can scrutinize them and determine whether there were any discrepancies in last fall’s vote.

Randy Helten, a failed mayoral candidate from the 2011 campaign and operator of the blog, said he has questions related to votes not being counted, ballots being spoiled and the effectiveness of the city’s new vote counting machines.

“If the ballots are destroyed, the evidence is gone forever,” Helten told the Courier Monday.

City clerk Janice Mackenzie, who doubled as the city’s chief election officer during last fall’s election campaign, told the Courier the city planned to destroy all ballots this week, as per legal requirements under the Vancouver Charter.

Mackenzie said there has been no court challenges regarding the results or integrity of the election and she described the number of complaints after the Nov. 15 election as “a trickle.”

But, she acknowledged, the election didn’t go as smoothly as planned, with at least one poll having to stay open an additional 45 minutes because of insufficient ballots and other polls overwhelmed by voter turnout.

“It’s not an area of concern or anything like that, but this was our first time where people could vote anywhere,” said Mackenzie, noting she was pleased with the 43.4 per cent voter turnout. “So it was difficult to predict with any accuracy where people would vote. It appears that people took advantage of being able to vote in a convenient location as opposed to the location within their defined voting division.”

For example, she said, Renfrew Community Centre recorded 817 votes in the 2011 election and 1,532 in 2014. The Vancouver Aquatic Centre saw 1,621 ballots cast in 2014 compared to 929 in 2011.

The city acknowledged that 5,930 votes for the council race were not counted because voters voted for more than the 10 allotted positions for council. However, the 593 ballots on which the “over-votes” occurred were still counted because voters cast the correct number of votes for the races of mayor, school board and park board.

Addressing Helten’s call for an inspection of the ballots, Mackenzie said such an examination would not determine whether one candidate should have received additional or fewer votes. That’s because the ballots are not designed for a voter to select candidates in preferential order.

Still, Helten said, new voting machines were used in the election and his research showed the number of “over-votes” in 2014 was substantially greater than in previous elections. 

“I’d like to be proven wrong by a physical inspection that the optical readers were not capturing specks of dust or other things and counting them as votes,” he said, noting he also has questions why 7,100 ballots were spoiled. (Mackenzie said the 2014 vote was the first time the city counted spoiled ballots. She said the “vast majority” of the voters who spoiled their ballots — through scribbling on it or checking off both yes and no questions to capital budget questions — were given replacement ballots.)

Helten said the city should at least delay destruction of the ballots until city staff review the election. That review may get the green light this week when NPA Coun. George Affleck introduces a motion to have staff analyze last fall’s vote. Affleck said in an interview last week that voters raised concerns with him about inconsistent checking of voter identification, spoiled ballots and long waits at polling stations.

Affleck’s motion drew support from Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs last week, and Mayor Gregor Robertson told the Courier last Thursday that he agreed there should be a staff review of the election.

“There’s a need for the city to look at improvements that we can make but the overarching responsibility is with Elections B.C. and we’ve got to ensure that we have them in the picture with us, as well,” Robertson said. “There was lots of upside to the improvements [advanced voting days, vote anywhere, big voter turnout] but there’s still some glitches and improvements that need to be made for the next time.”