Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer says he hand-delivered "a couple" of special ballot kits to voters who happen to live near him, with one of those people turning out to be PC Leader Ches Crosbie.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Bruce Chaulk confirmed Wednesday that he dropped voting kits at residences in his own neighbourhood, in the St. John's area.
"I just dropped off a couple of them. If it wasn't on my way then they were put in the mail and sent to them. I wasn't driving to Gander. It just happened to be that it was literally around the corner from my house. I didn't go out of my way," said Chaulk.
Chaulk said elections officials are allowed to drop off voting kits, adding, "I don't see anything wrong with that."
On Thursday, the campaign office for Crosbie confirmed that the PC leader received one of those kits, even though he didn't even ask for it.
"Mr. Crosbie did receive a ballot from Mr. Chaulk directly," communications official David Maher said in an email.
" Mr. Chaulk took it upon himself to deliver the ballot on his way home after his work day. Mr. Crosbie expected to receive his ballot through the mail. Mr. Crosbie did not request the ballot be dropped off in the manner Mr. Chaulk decided to deliver it."
Noting Elections NL's limited staff, Chaulk said he has helped process some 900 of the about 120,000 special ballot requests made since he cancelled in-person voting on Feb. 12 — a decision made hours before Election Day, as the province registered a surge in COVID-19 cases.
"In some of the cases I had to process the candidates myself," Chaulk said, noting a special process is needed for candidates who do not currently live in their district. He also said no one requested the hand-delivered service.
"If they live in my neighbourhood I just dropped it off in their mailbox," he said.
Equal treatment for all?
Progressive Conservative candidate Robyn LeGrow — who said she's aware of at least one voter whose special ballot was hand-delivered by Bruce Chaulk — said she's concerned the chief electoral officer isn't showing fair treatment to all.
"The fact that there are people in Labrador, all over the province, who don't even know if they'll be able to access a ballot, and Mr. Chaulk is taking the time to personally hand deliver ballots is quite concerning to me," said LeGrow, the Tory candidate for St. John's Centre.
Radio-Canada reported last month that Elections NL would not be able to translate special voting kits for unilingual Indigenous residents. Advocates have also highlighted accessibility concerns for rural residents, homeless voters and people with disabilities.
"I'm sure there's a number of people whose first language is not English who would have loved that he'd done some special favours for them," LeGrow said.
No favouritism, says Chaulk
Chaulk said he leads a non-partisan agency and that he has shown no favouritism during the campaign.
"It's not like I did it for one party and wouldn't do it for another," said Chaulk, later adding, "I don't know if it's different treatment, it's whether I saved the taxpayers a stamp, the postage going out. That's about the only difference."
"Whenever we can accommodate, and I've accommodated other electors that needed different treatment and we've done whatever we can to help them through this process," he said.
Asked whether those accommodations should have extended to unilingual Indigenous voters, Chaulk said, "Someone could have called, requested a kit for them, put instructions in there that they needed assistance and we would have tried to do the assistance. We had a number of calls from people who needed assistance and we tried to provide it whenever we could."
How Karl Wells got a call
Chaulk also faced criticism earlier this week when TV host Karl Wells tweeted that he had not received his ballot and subsequently received a phone call directly from the head of Elections NL.
Wells tweeted Tuesday he had "just received a call from Bruce Chaulk, the chief electoral officer, that my ballot kit is in the mail and that I should receive it today or tomorrow."
LeGrow was among those on Twitter who argued Chaulk appeared to be offering special treatment to some voters and not others.
Wells's initial tweet has since been deleted.
Chaulk said that his role is to facilitate voting and that during Tuesday's snowstorm, when few workers were at Elections NL headquarters, he decided to call Wells himself.
Chaulk said he has made about 200 phone calls to electors to request extra information or answer questions.
"The only difference was that the person this time tweeted that I called them," Chaulk said.