OTTAWA (CUP) — The New Democrats have dropped a legal challenge over alleged voting irregularities during the June federal election in exceptionally tight ridings near Regina, but say the controversy has reduced voter confidence in Canada.
“This is a national issue,” said Don Mitchell, head of the New Democratic Party’s riding association in Palliser, one of the ridings in question. “I think we need to look more closely at (the system) we have here.” The high expense and difficulty in proving the irregularities necessitated dropping the challenge, said Mitchell, who maintains the alleged voting irregularities occurred.
In the Palliser riding, NDP candidate Dave Proctor lost by 124 votes — out of 33,326 — to Conservative candidate Dave Batters. Liberal candidate Gary Anderson was edged out by Conservative Tom Lukiwski in the Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre riding by 122 votes.
The NDP mounted the challenge after allegedly discovering that some people had voted in the wrong riding, in part due to incorrect information provided by Elections Canada.
Voters were able to enter a postal code into the Elections Canada website to find out which riding they were in. But because the ridings in question have rural components, the NDP alleges that some voters were told to vote in a riding where they have a postal box, not in the riding where they live.
A University of Regina professor experienced such an irregularity when he typed his postal code into Elections Canada’s online system.
“We live in a rural area, and when I punched it into the website, it came up for a constituency different than the one that I was in,” said Howard Leson, a political science professor. “There are all kinds of people who potentially voted in the wrong constituency. That did not mean that they voted in the wrong constituency, only that the potential was there.”
But Leson is not surprised that the NDP challenge was abandoned.
“Normally it is very difficult to controvert an election, because you have to go out and find people who actually ought not to have voted in the constituency, and you have to be able to prove it,” he said.
The practice of telling people where to vote based on postal code needs to change, said Leson.
“I would think a parliamentary committee should have a long look at this,” he said. “I don’t think it worked well this time, and I don’t think it will work well in the future. There is less confidence in this system than in the old one.”
Until the 1997 election, Elections Canada used a system of enumeration, where door-to-door verification of voters was carried out. Last June’s election marked the first experiment with a permanent voters list, avoiding the significant cost of enumeration.
“We need some combination of a standing registry and enumeration,” Leson said.
But Elections Canada spokesperson Miriam Gennaro maintained the system is not flawed and the organization is not aware of any irregularities in Saskatchewan or anywhere else in the country.
Batters, now the clear winner in the Palliser riding, said he is glad to put the controversy behind, adding that he thinks the NDP challenge was baseless. “The bar for these challenges to go forward must be higher,” he said. “I really thought this was an abuse of our justice system.”