NDP says 'unprecedented' number of spoiled votes in N.L. election, voters speak out

·4 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador's NDP says the party's election scrutineer is concerned about an "unprecedented" number of spoiled ballots.

In a March 12 letter to chief elections officer Bruce Chaulk, NDP president Kyle Rees said the scrutineer indicated ballots were rejected because voters wrote "I vote for" before the name of the candidate or printed their name on the voter declaration form rather than signing it.

"This is an incorrect reason for rejecting a ballot," Rees wrote. "Many individuals, especially those of limited literacy, do not sign their name in handwriting."

Elections NL spokeswoman Adrienne Luther said Friday in an email that ballots would not be rejected if an elector wrote "I vote for." She said it was still too early to determine how many ballots have been rejected.

In a Facebook message to The Canadian Press on Friday, Rees said the party's scrutineer is experienced and has overseen several elections, though he could not say how many.

Rees's letter also asked that all ballots be organized and kept in groups according to date, in the event the election results wind up in court. His letter, however, said the NDP has no current plans to challenge them.

Chaulk has changed voting deadlines in the provincial election several times since the vote was first upended in February by a COVID-19 outbreak in the St. John's area. On Feb. 11, he cancelled in-person voting for 18 of the province's 40 districts.

On Feb. 12, the night before election day, he cancelled in-person voting entirely after health authorities put the province in lockdown. Votes would instead be cast by mail, he announced, adding that voters would have to request a mail-in ballot kit from his office. Ballots had to be returned by Thursday at 4 p.m., following several deadline extensions.

Rees's letter asked that votes cast in advance polls or by special ballot before the switch to mail-in ballots be kept separately. In a March 21 letter in response to Rees, Chaulk said there is no legislative requirement to organize and keep the ballots as Rees suggested.

"We are confident that … processes we have in place will withstand judicial scrutiny if taken to task," Chaulk wrote.

Meanwhile, the chorus of voters who say they were shut out of the election is growing. In St. John's, Whymarrh Whitby says he filed the paperwork to request a ballot and it never showed up, despite numerous unreturned phone calls to the Elections NL office.

"This is a reminder that our right to vote is subject to condition sometimes, apparently," Whitby said in an interview Friday. "Worse is that this could have been done properly." He said he knows at least one other person who didn't receive a ballot in time to vote.

Whitby said he has cast a ballot in every other municipal, provincial and federal election he has been eligible to vote in. "I'm angry. I'm at the point now where I need to know what happened."

He said he hopes "for the good of the province" the election is scrutinized in court. "You can't have large groups of people knowingly disenfranchised and continue on as if that didn't happen," he said.

In nearby Mount Pearl, N.L., pharmacist Mario Lovell said his ballot finally showed up late Tuesday afternoon but his work schedule didn't allow him to bring it to Elections NL by Thursday's 4 p.m. deadline.

Lovell said he had phoned Elections NL the week before when his ballot didn't arrive and said they had promised him it would be in his mailbox on Monday. In a Twitter message to The Canadian Press on Friday, Lovell said he's frustrated and disappointed. "This was my first time ever I could not vote since I became an eligible voter," he said.

On Thursday, Rex Holwell told The Canadian Press he and many others in Nain, a fly-in community along Labrador's north coast, did not receive ballots. Holwell said many in his community didn't realize they had to request a ballot and assumed Elections NL would send one to every registered voter in the province.

Elections NL says it will announce the results of the election on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press