Loser in African-Nova Scotian school board election alleges voter fraud

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The loser in one of Nova Scotia's unique race-based school board elections is hinting at voter fraud after a record turnout suggested more people cast ballots than were eligible.

Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that reserves a handful of elected posts for members of minority communities — Acadians, First Nations and African-Nova Scotians.

The NDP government is developing legislation to end the 20-year-old practice, which mandates six school board representatives and four seats in the legislature for the black community.

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Incumbent Michael Alden Fells lost the seat he held since 2004 on the Tri-County regional school board to newcomer Darlene Lawrence, 570 to 351, in the Oct. 20 election, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reported.

The total number of ballots counted — 921 — surprised Alden Fells.

"We don't have a thousand members in the black community, including children," Alden Fells told the Chronicle Herald, adding he planned to file a complaint with the local returning officer.

He said he believes some of the voters in the southwestern Nova Scotia county were not entitled to cast ballots under the special rules governing these elections.

"You must be African-Nova Scotian or have an African-Nova Scotian child in your care," Alden Fells said.

But poll officials can't refuse to give one of the special ballots to anybody who asks for one, he said.

Lawrence said online and telephone voting this year may have increased the number of ballots cast.

According to the 2006 census, there were 1,125 people of African descent in the Tri-County area, not all of them of voting age, the National Post reported.

"If you have a population of 1,100 people — 0 to 90 [years old] — and 990 people vote, when does the returning officer flag a concern?" Alden Fells told the Post.

After a look through polling lists, he concluded "there are least 500 people who clearly are not African-Nova Scotian or do not have an African-Nova Scotian child in their care."

In 2008, only five black votes were cast in the predominately francophone community of Clare, for example, compared with 152 votes this year.

Overall voter turnout was fairly poor and almost 60 per cent of school board seats outside of the Halifax area were filled by acclamation, the Chronicle-Herald reported.

Lawrence said a desire for change may have driven the high turnout in Tri-County.

"I know people who voted this time who have never voted in the election before," she said.

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But Alden Fells said he may have been targeted for other reasons.

"I've been very vocal about race and racism and how it impacts the African-Nova Scotian community," he told the Post.

"I think some people saw that there was an opportunity to remove me from representing my community and took advantage of that opportunity."

Alden Fells led a protest after a 2008 incident where his son was involved in an altercation with an off-duty police officer who allegedly uttered a racially charged slur. The pressure resulted in an official apology from the head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, the Post reported.