Stan­dard ques­tions Vil­lage elec­tion process

En­tire elec­tion takes less than four min­utes, sees Hen­drick­son be­come Com­mis­sioner in a 13-8 de­ci­sion

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - CAROLYN BAR­BER

On Au­gust 2, a spe­cial elec­tion was held to fill a va­cancy on the Vil­lage of Baddeck Com­mis­sion left by out­go­ing Com­mis­sioner and Chair Richard Roberts who re­signed abruptly on July 12. The Stan­dard’s An­drew Brooks and Carolyn Bar­ber were present at the elec­tion, as elec­tors and me­dia ob­servers, and spoke out sev­eral times over con­cerns as to how the elec­tion was be­ing con­ducted.

In some re­gards, elec­tion pro­ce­dures for the Vil­lage of Baddeck Com­mis­sion are dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine. The Com­mis­sion has not yet adopted elec­tion by-laws. This means Com­mis­sion­ers must only ad­here to skele­tal elec­tion pro­ce­dures within the Vil­lages Sched­ule (Sec­tion XVIII) of the Nova Sco­tia Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment Act (MGA). The MGA lays out spe­cific pro­ce­dures for Mu­nic­i­pal Elec­tions, which sev­eral Vil­lages have adopted (see Bi­ble Hill, Ch­ester, New Mi­nas and Kingston) even though they are un­der no obli­ga­tion to do so.

In the ab­sence of doc­u­mented pro­ce­dures, most or­ga­ni­za­tions adopt a set of gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples (e.g. Robert’s Rules). At the Au­gust 2 elec­tion, The Stan­dard took note of sev­eral ba­sic tenets of demo­cratic vot­ing be­ing ig­nored.

Af­ter a call to or­der and a read­ing aloud of elec­tor eli­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments, Chair Brian Mor­ri­son promptly called for nom­i­na­tions from the floor. Com­mis­sioner Philip Macrae nom­i­nated Ian Ni­chol­son while Shane Macfar­lane put forth Jackie Hen­drick­son’s name. Af­ter no fur­ther nom­i­na­tions were sub­mit­ted, Mor­ri­son closed the nom­i­na­tion process and in­structed that blank pa­per be handed out as bal­lots. Bar­ber asked if vot­ers could hear from the can­di­dates be­fore vot­ing. Chair Mor­ri­son re­fused the re­quest, stat­ing that they would pro­ceed di­rectly to a “straight” vote and that elec­tors could speak to can­di­dates fol­low­ing the elec­tion.

“I think ev­ery­body is quite aware of who is here,” he said.

The Stan­dard pressed the is­sue. Ni­chol­son and Hen­drik­sen then obliged with brief state­ments about why they wished to be a Com­mis­sioner.

“I have an in­ter­est in the Vil­lage. I’ve lived here most of my life. I’ve been aware of how the town is run. I’ve dealt with the wa­ter sys­tem,” said Ni­chol­son.

“I’m Jackie. I’m the Nurse Prac­ti­tioner. I too am in­ter­ested in the run­ning of the Vil­lage. I’d like to see the good things pre­served and I’d like to see the not-so-good things changed,” said Hen­drik­sen.

Vil­lage Clerk-trea­surer Erin Bradley counted 21 el­i­gi­ble vot­ers in the room al­though no one’s eli­gi­bil­ity was of­fi­cially checked. The lack of scru­tiny comes nine months af­ter a Com­mis­sion elec­tion was over­turned when new­ly­elected Com­mis­sioner Iris Kedmi was ruled in­el­i­gi­ble to serve af­ter it was re­vealed she was not a Cana­dian cit­i­zen.

Elec­tors pro­ceeded with com­plet­ing the hand-writ­ten bal­lots. Com­mis­sioner Philip Macrae, an ex­pe­ri­enced re­turn­ing of­fi­cer for the Prov­ince of Nova Sco­tia, found no is­sue with the lack of a sealed bal­lot box. In­stead, Macrae col­lected votes us­ing Chair Mor­ri­son’s base­ball cap while stand­ing in front of seated elec­tors as they wrote down their choice. Some elec­tors tried to shield the bal­lot with one hand as they wrote with the other.

Upon col­lec­tion of all bal­lots, Macfar­lane, Macrae and Bradley ex­ited the room to tally votes. Two min­utes later, the three re­turned with Bradley pro­claim­ing Jackie Hen­drik­sen the win­ner. The Stan­dard asked for the vote tally but was de­nied the re­quest.

“They [vote tal­lies] are not re­leased,” said Bradley.

When pressed for vot­ing re­sults, Bradley added that they would not be made pub­lic un­til they had been en­tered into meet­ing min­utes and ap­proved at the next monthly meet­ing on Au­gust 9. The only prac­ti­cal way to gain ac­cess to the vote tally prior to Au­gust 9 would be to re­quest a re­count within 3 days of the elec­tion as al­lowed un­der Sec­tion 418 of the MGA. Yet, wait­ing for the tally to be re­leased on Au­gust 9 would mean the re­count op­tion would ex­pire.

Res­i­dent Lavonne Grant in­quired why vot­ing re­sults were kept se­cret given the speed with which vot­ing re­sults are re­leased in provin­cial and fed­eral elec­tions. Chair Mor­ri­son in­ter­jected, stat­ing that any fur­ther ques­tions would be taken to the Of­fice of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs.

The vote - from the mo­ment elec­tors re­ceived their blank bal­lots to the mo­ment Bradley pro­claimed Hen­drik­sen the win­ner - took 3 min­utes and 53 sec­onds. Vot­ers ar­riv­ing af­ter 7:15pm would have missed the elec­tion in its en­tirety. Four late­com­ers al­most did as Bradley had started the ini­tial head count ten min­utes into the meet­ing. The meet­ing was ad­journed by 7:20pm.

The next morn­ing, Au­gust 3, The Stan­dard emailed twelve ques­tions per­tain­ing to the con­duct of elec­tions to Mu­nic­i­pal Ad­vi­sor Emily Pond with the Of­fice of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs. Pond passed all ques­tions to Lori Er­ring­ton, Me­dia Re­la­tions Ad­vi­sor, Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs. One of the ques­tions we asked was, “What pro­ce­dures should elec­tors fol­low if they wish to have a Vil­lage Com­mis­sion elec­tion nul­li­fied?” Er­ring­ton ini­tially replied that she would have to speak to le­gal coun­sel and it might take a few days to ob­tain an­swers. In the end, most ques­tions were not specif­i­cally an­swered, how­ever she did state that:

“It is ex­pected that vil­lages take all nec­es­sary mea­sures to en­sure elec­tions fall within the rules of the Act.” Er­ring­ton ended the email with:

“Re­gard­ing ask­ing for the elec­tion to be over­turned due to pro­ce­dural de­fi­cien­cies, elec­tors should seek in­de­pen­dent le­gal ad­vice.”

On Au­gust 4, Bradley re­leased the spe­cial elec­tion vote tally to the Stan­dard by email with the fol­low­ing note:

“Fol­low­ing a spe­cial meet­ing to elect a Vil­lage Com­mis­sioner on Au­gust 2, 2017, there was some dis­cus­sion about re­leas­ing vote counts to the pub­lic and the me­dia. In an ef­fort to en­sure that pri­vacy rights of our cit­i­zens were prop­erly ob­served, the Vil­lage Com­mis­sion of Baddeck con­sulted with the provin­cial depart­ment of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs. As­sured that we can pro­ceed, here are re­sults from the spe­cial elec­tion for a Vil­lage Com­mis­sioner on Au­gust 2, 2017.”

It is not clear what pri­vacy rights Bradley and the Com­mis­sion were con­cerned about ob­serv­ing given that the only in­for­ma­tion re­quested was how many peo­ple voted for each of two can­di­dates run­ning for pub­lic of­fice. In the end, Jackie Hen­drik­sen re­ceived 13 votes while Ian Ni­chol­son Re­ceived eight.

On Au­gust 9, one week af­ter the spe­cial elec­tion, The Stan­dard re­ceived its first-ever me­dia re­lease from the Vil­lage of Baddeck. Vic­to­ria County Pub­lic Works Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Of­fi­cer Jo­ce­lyn Bethune pre­pared the re­lease re­gard­ing the spe­cial elec­tion. In the re­lease, Vil­lage Chair Mor­ri­son took a de­cid­edly rosier tone to­wards the pre­vi­ous week’s pro­ceed­ings.

“We were very pleased to see a full house of rate-pay­ers at­tend our meet­ing and es­pe­cially de­lighted to see two very ca­pa­ble and civic-minded peo­ple put their name for­ward to serve as com­mis­sioner.”

Bethune was present at the Vil­lage monthly meet­ing the evening of Au­gust 9 and was ap­proached by The Stan­dard once the Com­mis­sion went in-cam­era for an undis­closed rea­son. Ac­cord­ing to the MGA, the Com­mis­sion is not re­quired to state the spe­cific rea­son for go­ing in-cam­era, how­ever, they must dis­close the area of busi­ness (see MGA Sec­tion XVIII, Sub­sec­tion 408B, para­graphs 2 and 4).

Bethune said she has been in con­ver­sa­tion with the Vil­lage for sev­eral months but it was only “in the last cou­ple of days” that the Com­mis­sion re­al­ized it needed help with bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“There’s been a lack of out­reach for sure,” said Bethune.

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