Everyvote counts—just ask Peachland
B.C. town could pick mayor’s name from hat
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.