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Stewiacke considers adding paper ballots following electronic voting irregularities

An application to void the 2023 byelection results in Stewiacke was withdrawn in January, but a statement from the town said Stewiacke is on the hook for $5,253 in legal fees.  (Luke Ettinger/CBC - image credit)
An application to void the 2023 byelection results in Stewiacke was withdrawn in January, but a statement from the town said Stewiacke is on the hook for $5,253 in legal fees. (Luke Ettinger/CBC - image credit)

There are calls for paper ballots in the upcoming Town of Stewiacke election after problems with electronic voting plagued past elections.

This comes amid an ongoing police investigation and following an abandoned court case involving allegations of voting irregularities in a recent byelection.

There was a court case involving issues with electronic voting in the 2016 election. In that instance, the court upheld the election results.

The past is top of mind in Stewiacke as town council considers hybrid voting for the municipal election this fall.

For over a decade the town has used electronic and telephone voting by default, but can include paper ballots by council decision, which happened in 2016 and 2020.

Bill Hellewell, a candidate in last year's electronic-only byelection, said voting by internet or telephone can be more accessible to some voters. He said that can increase voter turnout, but the previous byelection leaves him preferring paper.

Irregularities reported

"If I was sitting at the council table, I guess my view would be I would take the most secure way," he said in an interview. "If those gaps can't be closed, then I would say yes, paper that's the most secure."

There was a six-vote margin of victory in the byelection, won by Pam Osborne. The result was reviewed by the returning officer and irregularities were reported to the RCMP, according to a news release from the town.

Three candidates also asked to have the results voided and a new byelection ordered through an application to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Truro.

The application was withdrawn in January, but a statement from the town said Stewiacke is on the hook for $5,253 in legal fees.

In court documents, Dale Bogle, former chief administrative officer and returning officer, said the town was informed that a non-resident of Stewiacke allegedly voted electronically in the byelection. He said that prompted a full review of election data and additional irregularities were discovered.

Anonymous phone call 

Terri Stewart, an applicant who finished second in the race, said she received a phone call from an unidentified woman claiming there were irregularities the day after the election.

"We didn't have anything against anybody," Stewart said in an interview. "We just wanted to get to the bottom of it and we wanted to help our community, our town that we love."

The other applicants that wanted to have the results overturned were Hellewell and fellow candidate David Leblanc. Both received fewer than 100 votes compared to Osborne. Osborne had 178 votes, according to a release.

"If you know somebody's date of birth and you pick up their card in the post office, you can vote for them," said LeBlanc. "It should be a paper ballot [in the upcoming election] because there appears to be and has been problems with electronic voting."

"Some of the issues around the electronic voting would only be solved by actually doing away with it," said town interim chief administrative officer Kevin Matheson at committee of the whole on Thursday.

Coun. Pam Osborne, Coun. Rebecca Rogers-Laing and Mayor George Lloy recommended the town council consider a hybrid voting method. Coun. Roseanne Chapman suggested the town revert to paper only ballots.
Coun. Pam Osborne, Coun. Rebecca Rogers-Laing and Mayor George Lloy recommended the town council consider a hybrid voting method. Coun. Roseanne Chapman suggested the town revert to paper only ballots.

Coun. Pam Osborne, Coun. Rebecca Rogers-Laing and Mayor George Lloy recommended the town council consider hybrid voting. Coun. Roseanne Chapman suggested the town revert to paper ballots only. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

Coun. Roseanne Chapman recommended against electronic voting, and said it was the cause of issues in the past.

"I strongly believe we should do paper only," Chapman said at the meeting.

But Mayor George Lloy, Coun. Rebecca Rogers-Laing and Coun. Osborne, recommended the town council consider hybrid voting.

"I honestly don't have any concerns moving forward," Osborne said in an interview.

As the town prepares for its next election, RCMP say they are unable to provide additional details about the investigation. All four byelection candidates said they had not been contacted by RCMP.

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