Sask. fran­co­phone elec­tion mired in al­le­ga­tions of vot­ing ‘ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties’

Regina Leader-Post - - CITY + REGION - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUM­MEY

Saskatchewan’s fran­co­phone as­so­ci­a­tion is deal­ing with mul­ti­ple com­plaints over vot­ing “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties,” fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that can­di­dates in­ter­fered with the bal­lot­ing process prior to this month’s elec­tion.

Regina-based can­di­date De­nis Si­mard was elected pres­i­dent of the Assem­blée com­mu­nau­taire fransaskoise (ACF) by 52 votes, the group’s chief elec­toral of­fi­cer an­nounced last week. But his op­po­nent, Roger Gau­thier, quickly chal­lenged the re­sult. He said the mail-in vot­ing sys­tem had been “com­pro­mised.”

“I de­manded that all those votes be can­celled be­cause of in­ter­fer­ence,” Gau­thier told the Lead­erPost.

Gau­thier al­leges that two district-level can­di­dates in Saska­toon vis­ited vot­ers and mailed in bal­lots on their be­half, as did a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Si­mard’s cam­paign. He said he was alerted to the “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” when the Saska­toon mail-in bal­lot count came in at about 15 to 20 times what was found at any other poll.

Pre­cisely 105 mail-in bal­lots are in ques­tion, ac­cord­ing to Gau­thier. They all ar­rived in iden­ti­cal en­velopes, mailed on the same day from four lo­ca­tions. Of the 66 that weren’t thrown out, al­most all went to Si­mard and the two lo­cal Saska­toon can­di­dates. That was more than enough to over­take the nine-vote lead Gau­thier held af­ter pre­lim­i­nary re­sults.

“The sit­u­a­tion is ex­tremely se­ri­ous for the com­mu­nity,” he said. “It’s some­thing never be­fore seen … it’s cre­at­ing an in­cred­i­ble in­sta­bil­ity.”

The ACF aims to de­fend the in­ter­ests of French speak­ers across Saskatchewan, and helps co-or­di­nate be­tween lo­cal fran­co­phone groups.

Gau­thier’s com­plaint is now be­fore an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion, which is also set to con­sider five other com­plaints re­lated to the Nov. 1 elec­tion.

Pol­icy sets a seven-day dead­line for a rul­ing, but the process is likely to face de­lay af­ter one of the com­mis­sion’s three mem­bers re­cused them­selves. Ac­cord­ing to the ACF’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer, the mem­ber had filled out a form en­dors­ing one of the can­di­dates and de­clared a con­flict of in­ter­est. Si­mard and the newly elected lo­cal del­e­gates have not yet as­sumed of­fice, so the out­go­ing as­sem­bly will be tasked with choos­ing a new mem­ber to sit on the com­mis­sion.

Si­mard was adamant in de­fend­ing his cam­paign.

“I know that I my­self and the rep­re­sen­ta­tives I had with me took no ac­tions that are out­side of the rules,” Si­mard said.

He ad­mits that one of his cam­paign work­ers vis­ited vot­ers and pro­vided pre-stamped, pre-ad­dressed en­velopes, but in­sists that the goal was to help cor­rect an er­ror in the mail­ing ad­dress ini­tially pro­vided. He’s not sure whether the worker ac­tu­ally mailed in the bal­lots. Even if they did, he said, that wouldn’t com­pro­mise the elec­tion.

“If some­one said, ‘here’s the vote … can you put it in the mail?’ I don’t know if any of my rep­re­sen­ta­tives would have said no,” he said. “A sealed en­ve­lope is a sealed en­ve­lope, so I take no is­sue with that.”

He claims that many of the vot­ers were new Cana­di­ans who pre­fer to vote by mail, and just needed help send­ing their bal­lots to the right place. He sug­gested that throw­ing out their votes would tram­ple on their rights.

“If these votes were fab­ri­cated, he would have ground to stand on,” Si­mard said. “But ev­ery one of those 105 votes, even the ones he elim­i­nated, were legally cast.”

The in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion will have sev­eral op­tions to con­sider. It could main­tain the sta­tus quo, leav­ing Si­mard the pres­i­dent, or can­cel the bal­lots, pre­sum­ably hand­ing Gau­thier the win. Gau­thier said he’s also open to a par­tial elec­tion for the Saska­toon district, or to a com­plete redo of vot­ing across Saskatchewan. If that doesn’t hap­pen, and the mailin bal­lots re­main in place, he said it will “tar­nish the man­date” of Si­mard and the two other can­di­dates in­volved.

But Si­mard said Gau­thier is just be­ing a “sore loser.” He called on all can­di­dates to ac­cept what­ever the in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion de­cides.

“Whether you agree with it or not,” he said, “a legally elected mem­ber is a legally elected mem­ber.”

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