Everyvote counts—just ask Peach­land

B.C. town could pick mayor’s name from hat

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - NICK FARIS Na­tional Post [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/nickm­faris

Harry Gough was hav­ing din­ner at the Gasthaus restau­rant in Peach­land, B.C., last Satur­day night, en­joy­ing the com­pany of friends by the shore of Okana­gan Lake, when his son ap­peared at the ta­ble with a star­tling dis­patch from the com­mu­nity cen­tre down the street: Gough had just won the town’s may­oral elec­tion by a sin­gle vote.

“None of us be­lieved him,” Gough said on Wednes­day. “We thought, ‘One vote? That doesn’t hap­pen.’ ”

As it turns out, skep­ti­cism was a pre­scient re­ac­tion — not that any­one in Peach­land could have fore­seen what hap­pened next.

On Mon­day, a ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the bal­lots cast for Gough and the op­po­nent he thought he’d edged 804-803, in­cum­bent mayor Cindy Fortin, re­vealed that a vote for Fortin had been missed when the ma­chine pro­cess­ing the sheet of paper in ques­tion jammed and didn’t record the pen stroke be­side her name.

The cor­rect re­sult was 804 votes apiece.

Now, af­ter a heated cam­paign that di­vided Peach­land be­tween du­elling opin­ions of whether a five-storey res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ing should be con­structed along the lake­front, Fortin, Gough and the 5,200 res­i­dents of the town they both want to gov­ern are stuck, wait­ing for a pro­vin­cial judge to over­see a re­count that could break the dead­lock — or, if the tie per­sists, force the elec­tion to be de­cided in the crud­est of ways: the blind draw of a name.

Nei­ther can­di­date is a fan of that pos­si­bil­ity.

“It just seems crazy,” Gough said.

“It doesn’t sit well with me,” Fortin con­curred in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view. “The cit­i­zens need to make the de­ci­sion, not draw from a hat — or, prob­a­bly, not lit­er­ally a hat. A box, prob­a­bly.”

B.C. law doesn’t spec­ify what kind of con­tainer is to be used to re­solve a tied elec­tion — Peach­land’s chief elec­toral of­fi­cer, Polly Palmer, said that would be left to which­ever judge su­per­vises the draw — but it is very par­tic­u­lar about other steps in the process.

In Fortin and Gough’s case, two pieces of paper, one for each can­di­date, would be folded in iden­ti­cal fash­ion and shaken to make “their dis­tri­bu­tion ran­dom.” An in­de­pen­dent on­looker then slides into the pic­ture to pick the win­ning name.

The ju­di­cial re­count and, pos­si­bly, the draw, each of which will be held be­fore Nov. 3, will bring to an end a con­tentious cam­paign that ruf­fled Peach­land, a pic­turesque town south­west of Kelowna in the Okana­gan.

Fortin, who be­came Peach­land’s mayor in 2014, says she has been hounded on­line and, in cer­tain cases, threat­ened with harm by peo­ple who op­posed her bid for re-elec­tion, in­clud­ing a group that took is­sue with coun­cil’s ap­proval last year of a five-storey mixe­duse build­ing to be erected on Beach Av­enue, the road that borders Okana­gan Lake through­out down­town.

This week, she said, some res­i­dents have the­o­rized con­spir­a­to­ri­ally on a com­mu­nity Face­book page that the snafu with the vote ma­chine shows that her cam­paign team helped rig the elec­tion.

“It’s re­ally un­be­liev­able that they would think that we could fig­ure out how to get 803 peo­ple in there and then jam the ma­chine,” Fortin said.

“I re­ally think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple stop with all the ac­cu­sa­tions and fin­ger­point­ing. It’s not help­ful. This town is stressed enough over this. We re­ally need to just re­lax.”

For his part, Gough, who sup­ports cap­ping the con­struc­tion of any new build­ings on Beach Av­enue at three storeys, said some vot­ers de­nounced his can­di­dacy be­cause he doesn’t ac­tu­ally live in Peach­land, but 10 kilo­me­tres out­side of town in West Kelowna. Gough and his wife own a condo in Peach­land, which made him el­i­gi­ble to vote and run for mayor, and he con­tends that he’s been deeply in­vested in the com­mu­nity for more than 20 years: He used to be a town coun­cil­lor and was a long­time owner of the lo­cal IGA gro­cery store.

“I don’t think I have to jus­tify that to peo­ple,” Gough said. “They did that at the polls.”

From here on out, no barb or broad­side will have any bear­ing on the out­come of the race. That will be left to the judge’s count and then, po­ten­tially, to chance.

Fortin and Gough both said they’d pre­fer if the win­ner were de­cided through a two-way run-off vote, but a by­law Peach­land coun­cil passed in the spring dic­tates that a ran­dom draw is the only last re­sort, nul­li­fy­ing that op­tion.

Two peo­ple signed the doc­u­ment en­act­ing that by­law: Palmer, in her role as CEO, and Fortin, the mayor. On Wednes­day, Fortin said pass­ing a set of elec­tion rules is a mat­ter of rou­tine be­fore ev­ery may­oral cam­paign — and that no one on coun­cil scru­ti­nized the tiebreak clause too closely.

“I don’t think peo­ple re­ally thought that there would ever be a tie,” Fortin said.

Cindy Fortin

Harry Gough

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