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Five votes and a judicial recount stand between a minority and majority government for the Liberals
The 2019 Newfoundland and Labrador general election isn’t over just yet.
The five-vote margin that New Democrat Jordan Brown is clinging to over Liberal cabinet minister Graham Letto in Labrador West will get its first day in court on June 4. But, that date is only to set the date for the actual judicial recount, called automatically because of the less-than-10-vote margin of victory in the May 16 election.
That thinnest margin is all that stands between Dwight Ball’s Liberals and a second majority government.
Chief Electoral Officer Bruce Chaulk says a number of dates have been set aside as placeholders for the recount, but June 19 is the first date the recount could happen. Chaulk says he expects the recount will last a day and a half.
Elections NL released its own official count of the 2019 general election, counting 1,366 votes for Brown, 1,361 for Letto, and 508 for Progressive Conservative Derick Sharron.
Each of the already counted votes will be scrutinized by lawyers for each party before a judge of the Supreme Court. But, with 26 votes rejected, the result of the election remains up in the air.
Chaulk says determining the clear intent of each ballot is the matter at hand.
“If you look at the ballot and they put two X’s down for two candidates, then you can’t figure out what the intent is because they voted for two people,” said Chaulk.
“They could also have put nothing on the ballot. Then, you can’t determine the intent because no choice was listed. They’re both rejected ballots. That’s pretty much what you’d look at.”
There is some leeway when it comes to determining the intent of the vote. Chaulk says if someone marks a check mark, instead of an X, the vote can still be counted if the mark is clear enough to determine the intent of the ballot.
“I’m sure there’s going to be lawyers there from all three candidates. They’re all going to say, ‘you shouldn’t accept that one, you shouldn’t accept that one, and you should accept this one,’” said Chaulk.
“Ultimately, the judge will make the decision.”
There’s also the matter of swearing in the MHAs and getting the 49th sitting of the House of Assembly underway.
The first official count was released on May 19, with 36 clear results. Legislation requires a 12-day period between the official count and the swearing-in ceremony. That means the earliest that those 36 MHAs can be sworn in is Friday, May 31. May 21 saw the official results in Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune, which means Liberal Elvis Loveless can be sworn in on Sunday, June 2. May 27 saw the official counts released for Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair and Torngat Mountains, which means the first day Liberal Lisa Dempster and PC Lela Evans can take the oath of office is June 8.
Chaulk says thick fog and sea ice contributed to the delays with the official counts in the cases of Loveless, Dempster, and Evans.
For now, Brown says he can only wait and see if he is, indeed, an MHA.
“It takes its toll. You take it day by day. You’re in a limbo, you don’t know if you’re coming or you’re going,” said Brown.
“People are contacting me and saying, ‘I need this looked at, or I need that,’ but there’s nothing I can do at this point in time. I think the people in town are thinking ‘get on with it already’.”
Letto did not reply to multiple requests for comment from The Telegram.
In the event of a tie vote, the seat would remain empty and a byelection called to contest it once again.
No one knows better the stakes of a judicial recount than Dwight Ball.
Jan. 19, 2007 is the last time an automatic judicial recount was held in Newfoundland and Labrador, when Ball and PC Darryl Kelly came within nine votes of one another.
The official count from then-Chief Electoral Officer Paul Reynolds was 2,156 for Ball, 2,147 for Kelly, and 123 votes for New Democratic Party candidate Shelley Senior. There were six rejected ballots in the initial count.
The judicial recount, however, actually saw less votes counted, rather than more.
The judicial recount of that election, overseen by judge Alan Seaborn, ultimately saw Ball with 2,153 votes, Kelly with 2,146 votes, and 122 votes for Senior. A total of 10 votes were rejected after the recount, with six being cancelled.
In theory, the question is not about whether rejected votes will be counted, but whether existing votes could be disqualified.
Chaulk says he’s comfortable with the official vote counts released, but it’s all in the hands of a yet-to-be-appointed judge now.
“You never know what’s going to happen.”
Note: A previous version of this story included an incorrect vote total for Jordan Brown.