Standard questions Village election process
Entire election takes less than four minutes, sees Hendrickson become Commissioner in a 13-8 decision
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.