Chief electoral officer in Newfoundland and Labrador defends hand-delivering ballots

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer is defending his decision to hand-deliver some ballot kits to people in his St. John's, N.L., neighbourhood.

Bruce Chaulk said Thursday he sees no problem in the fact he personally delivered ballots to about six people, including Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and Liberal Finance Minister Siobhan Coady.

Chaulk said in some cases he had prepared ballot kits for candidates who didn't live in their districts.

"I had the kits done and could drop them in the mail, but looking at the addresses I thought I could just drop them off on the way home," he said in an interview. He said the personal service wasn't requested; he did it on his own initiative.

"I don't think it's much of an issue," Chaulk said about delivering ballots to Crosbie and Coady. "Both live in my neighbourhood. They are literally around the corner."

Elections NL moved to special mail-in ballots after cancelling in-person voting on Feb. 12 following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the capital region. Since then, concerns have been expressed about whether voters would receive their ballots in time to have them back in the mail by the March 12 deadline.

Robyn LeGrow, the Tory candidate for St. John's Centre, took issue with Chaulk's decision to hand-deliver some ballots.

She said the service contrasts starkly with that provided to people in remote areas of Labrador who are concerned they won't receive their ballots in time or won't be able to understand them because they are not translated into their Indigenous language.

"You're hearing about the person responsible for all of this having no problem with going around and hand-delivering," LeGrow said in an interview Thursday. "It just shows his disregard for the disenfranchisement of the people I've talked about."

Memorial University political science professor Amanda Bittner said Chaulk's actions do not look good considering the concerns expressed by rural voters.

"Meanwhile the (chief electoral officer) is hand-delivering ballots to those who are already privileged and live in the same upper-middle class neighbourhood as him," Bittner wrote in an email.

"There is a perception that he did something wrong because this was wrong. It is not appropriate for the chief electoral officer to be facilitating the franchise for a select group, hand-picked by himself."

Ballots must be postmarked by March 12, and Chaulk recommends that voters not wait until the last day to send them.

He said many people have skipped the mail and put their ballots in the Election's NL mail slot. "They are hand-delivering them back," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021.

— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

The Canadian Press