VOTER FRAUD INVESTIGATION
Police looking into use of app to try to buy votes
With just over a week to go before B.C.’s civic elections, police in the province’s three largest municipalities are investigating allegations of voter fraud and vote buying.
On Friday, the cities of Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby were looking into messages circulating on the Chinese social media app WeChat. It appeared the Richmond-based Wen Zhou Friendship Society had encouraged people in a private chat group to vote for certain candidates in Richmond, Vancouver and Burnaby, and offered money.
The City of Richmond said it had referred the matter to Richmond RCMP for further investigation and would not comment further while the investigation was underway.
In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it was aware of the messages and had referred the matter to the Vancouver Police Department “as a potential offence.” Vancouver police spokesman Const. Jason Doucette said the department “is aware of an allegation of voter manipulation.”
“The Richmond RCMP is leading the investigation and the VPD has assigned detectives to work with them,” Doucette said.
According to Burnaby RCMP, a file has been opened and it will also assist Richmond RCMP and work with Burnaby’s chief electoral officer on the allegations.
The Wen Zhou Friendship Society did not answer calls or emails Friday, but the Richmond News reported the society had asked members to vote for certain candidates and offered a $20 “transportation subsidy.”
A volunteer with the society told the Richmond News they had rescinded the offer after discovering it was illegal.
Records show the Wen Zhou Friendship Society was incorporated in 2001, but dissolved in July of this year for failure to file mandatory reports with the government. The society was restored just last week, after one of its directors filed an application for restoration. Three of its directors have listed addresses in Vancouver, with the fourth in Richmond.
In Surrey, allegations of voter fraud became public two weeks ago, when anti-crime group Wake Up Surrey sent letters to the Surrey RCMP and Elections B.C. alleging that there was a “well-coordinated election fraud scheme underway within the South Asian community.”
Surrey election officials also raised red flags, contacting the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs and then the police about concerns they had with some of the applications they had received.
Surrey RCMP have examined 73 applications to vote by mail that were identified by Surrey’s chief elections officer as having irregularities. As of Friday, Surrey police had interviewed 69 out of 73 people whose personal information was used to complete an application.
The investigation revealed that 67 of these applications were fraudulent, in that they were not completed or signed by the voter listed on the application.
Two of the 67 applications requested ballots be sent to addresses that were not associated to the named applicant, while the other 65 applications listed the applicant’s correct address for delivery of the voting ballot.
“I think the important thing for people to know is no ballots were sent out and no voting took place as a result of these fraud allegations,” said Surrey RCMP Cpl. Elenore Sturko.
Surrey’s chief elections officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci amended the city’s process to apply for and receive a mail-in ballot on Oct. 1 to preserve the integrity of the election. Voters seeking mail-in ballots must now pick them up in person, showing photo identification. Accommodations are considered for people with “disabilities, illness or injury ” and assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Police say that, to date, investigators have found no evidence to link any candidate or party to the fraudulent applications in Surrey. There is also no indication that people were induced or intimidated in any manner to provide their personal information or to vote for a specific candidate.
Two persons of interest have been identified and interviewed, but police have not yet determined whether criminal charges or charges under the Local Government Act will be recommended.
Wake Up Surrey spokesperson Sukhi Sandhu said the investigation results thus far validate the organization’s concerns.
“It’s a sad day for our city, it’s a sad day for democracy in our city that due to the unethical behaviour of a small group our reputation has been tarnished,” Sandhu said.
Sandhu said that if Wake Up Surrey, the city and police had not acted so quickly, the fraud would have been much worse.
“We believe this was just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Safe Surrey Coalition mayoral candidate Doug McCallum thanked Wake Up Surrey for bringing the fraud concerns to the attention of the authorities.
“The election fraud appears to be stopped in its tracks,” he said. “At the end of the day, I hope those responsible face criminal charges.”
Surrey First mayoral candidate Tom Gill said he had hoped the investigation would be wrapped up this week, but he appreciates the update from police. In particular, he was happy to see that there was no link to any one party or candidate — despite the rumours that have circulated on social media — and that the scope of the fraud was smaller than initially alleged. He lamented the fact that the allegations had distracted from the election campaign.
“It’s horrible that you have one or two or three individuals that are responsible for creating such chaos in the community,” Gill said. “It’s unfortunate that social media has picked up these allegations and permitted people to be slanderous, and hide behind a veil and make commentary that’s inappropriate.”
Bruce Hayne, who is running for mayor with Integrity Now, said that in spite of the “disheartening ” attempts at fraud, he is confident in the electoral system and voters should be, too.
“Our electoral officer at the City of Surrey caught it right away and the RCMP were on to it right away. At least the system is working to catch this type of thing,” he said.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan didn’t reply to a request for comment. His opponent Mike Hurley said: “It’s concerning that vote tampering can be happening. I guess it’s reality these days, but any act that corrupts the fair voting process can’t be tolerated ... It’s very, very serious.”
Election day is Saturday, Oct. 20.
The important thing for people to know is no ballots were sent out and no voting took place as a result of these fraud allegations.
Surrey’s chief elections officer Anthony Capuccinello Iraci has changed the mail-in ballot process after problems were identified.