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