NDP challenges special ballot process

James Mcleod & Andrew Robinson
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Lawyers preparing constitutional challenge to Elections Act

Julie Mitchell — File photo

When the NDP makes its case for a recount in Supreme Court, it won’t just be about the ballots — the party is arguing the province’s election law is unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, the lawyer working on behalf of NDP candidate Julie Mitchell filed a “notice of constitutional question” to the province’s attorney general, saying that they intend to challenge certain sections of the province’s elections law.

The case is scheduled to be called in Supreme Court Thursday morning.

In the Oct. 11 provincial election, Mitchell lost the district of Burin-Placentia West to Education Minister Clyde Jackman by 40 votes.

Last month, she applied to Supreme Court for a judicial recount, arguing that at least one ballot was improperly counted for Jackman, and a scrutineer was not given access to examine other ballots.

More broadly, though, Michell’s lawyer, Geoff Budden, is arguing that the special balloting portion of the Elections Act is unconstitutional.

In court filings, Budden said the special balloting creates “a barrier to effective representation of the electorate.”

But in a separate filing, a lawyer representing Jackman is arguing that the whole issue should be split off into a separate court process.

Lawyers for Jackman make the case that a judicial recount under the Elections Act is supposed to happen as quickly as reasonably possible, and that the thorny constitutional questions should be tackled separately.

“The recount is one issue,” Jackman told The Telegram Wednesday. “I’m going to get on with that, and the constitutional challenge is something that’s going to be of provincial scope. Therefore, it’s not only going to be our party that will want input.”

If the NDP was successful in challenging the special balloting process, it would potentially change the results of all 48 electoral districts — not just Burin-Placentia West.

The special balloting system allows people to apply for, and then fill out a ballot nearly two months before election day.

Under the election legislation, anyone who would have trouble voting on election day, or in the advanced polls is allowed to vote by special ballot.

That voting can begin up to four weeks before the formal election campaign period begins.

Anyone voting by special ballot can specify the name of the candidate they want to vote for, or just the party they want to vote for — because often there isn’t a declared candidate for every district when special balloting begins

In the NDP’s application to the court, Budden wrote that several of the special ballots cast in Burin-Placentia West were from voters who did not live in the district, including one who appeared to live in St. John’s.

Kathleen Connors, associate president of the NDP said those irregularities are driving the party to question the whole special balloting system.

“The reality is that in this current situation in Burin Placentia West, we all go into the election process assuming we’re all playing by the rules,” Connors said.

“It’s only when we find ourselves when we have to very closely scrutinise the results that issues come to light, and the need to have the whole process examined is important.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: NDP, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Placentia West

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Recent comments

  • Craig
    November 10, 2011 - 07:50

    To Trish Dodd, I think there is something wrong with your caps lock. You should have your keyboard checked

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 09, 2011 - 09:08

    Special ballots is only one part of the problem here. Mr. Jackman won only because he split the Lberal and NDP vote. Like his government, he went into the House on a minority basis. Of course, other members on both sides of the House got in that way too. I have a major problem with that process, considering that less than 60% of eligible voters cast ballots to begin with. When a government wins a massive majority of seats but gets just slightly more than 3 out of 10 eligible voters casting ballots its way, we have a crisis in the the way our democracy is working. I would hope that the NDP, the Lberals AND the PC government would recognize the sad state of democracy in this province and push ahead with meanignful reform. We could start by getting the House of Assembly open for debate on this and other important issues.

    • Liam
      November 10, 2011 - 00:53

      The Liberals and the NDP aren't really "splitting the vote" when the Liberal candidate in the riding only got 3.8%. If those handful of Liberal voters had not had a candidate, they might have voted PC instead of NDP. Or they might not have voted at all.

  • Not exactly
    November 09, 2011 - 08:23

    I don't think it'd be all 48 districts affected, just the ones that were decided by the special ballots. Can't be more than 1 or 2 of those other than Burin.

    • Trish Dodd
      November 09, 2011 - 09:16

      As a candidate in the October election and as a voter I would agree their needs to be a way for people who are unable to vote in the advanced poll or election day. THE PROBLEM THAT I SEE IS WHEN THERE MAY NOT BE All CANDIDATES ANNOUNCED IN A DISTRICT> THEREFORE VOTERS MAY VOTE AND NO PERSON COMES FORTH FOR THE PARTY> NOT ALWAYS DOES A PARTY HAVE A CANDIDATE. I believe this has to be argued in the court, AREN't we the only province in Canada who has this process. thanks

  • Keith
    November 09, 2011 - 06:48

    For a government who proposed transparency as on of their mandates this government is more underhanded than the Liberals before it. Clean up your act poloticians and do the job you were elected to do which is represent your districts not your party.