I spent most of last Wednesday at the Court of Queen's Bench, participating in the recount process. I had asked for the recount for a couple of reasons. One was that the number of ballots considered as uncounted was greater than the difference in votes for Ward Three councillor; the other was the various concerns that I raised in my last posting that I wanted to be sure the City Clerk was aware of, and hopefully takes action on before the next election. What I wasn't expecting was to find even more issues that should be taken care of.
The result wasn't the happy ending that I was hoping for, although the margin is now smaller, but I did think that it was a useful exercise in underlining the gaps in the process. And people should be aware - the problems identified in the recount for Ward Three are probably similar all across the city.
Most of the ballots that were considered uncounted were unreadable by the electronic system. What we found was that these ballots had been marked, but in the old-fashioned way, by people putting an X next to their preferred candidate. Voting rules are that if the indication is clear, the vote must be counted, even if it wasn't marked as instructed. Part of the problem is that people weren't instructed on the new, fill-in-the- blank oval system; part of the problem is that not everybody has the same literacy level so may not have been able to read the new instructions; and part of the problem is likely that someone who has been voting for many elections and wasn't informed of the new system would likely just continue doing it as they've always been doing. In any case, far more detailed instructions for how to mark the ballot are essential, or else ballots should be counted by hand. I didn't find the electronic system that much faster than hand counting on election night, so I'm not sure how much time was saved.
The judge overseeing the recount pointed out a number of security issues. The number of ballots that came from the printer wasn't confirmed, unmarked ballots were left unsecured in boxes, the number of ballots sent to each poll wasn't confirmed, and possibly most worrisome, the deputy returning officer had pre-initialed a large number of ballots, essentially authorizing the validity of a vote on an unmarked ballot. When asked why, the response was that it was done to save time. One would hope that after the Mike Duffy trial pointed out the folly of authorizing something before it's actually done would have warned against this, but apparently not. Saving time for workers should not be our main goal. Our goal should be to have the vote count as accurate as possible, and to ensure that the process was fair for everyone - the voter as well as the candidates. While I'm not suggesting that any wrong-doing took place, each of these errors is an opportunity for ballots to be marked after the process, and that isn't acceptable.
The result of the election is still the same, so why does this matter? Well, I think that if someone takes the effort to go out and vote, their vote should be counted - it's that simple. I also think that the new system works against the less fortunate in our city - those who already have fewer advantages than those who grew up writing exams electronically (like my kids). It also works against seniors, another group in our city that deserves to have their voice heard. We need to do everything possible to ensure that the voting playing field is level.
Having a transparent, fair voting system is the basis of democracy. I've done what I can to raise the issues - let's just hope that the loopholes are tightened before the next election.
"It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting." - Tom Stoppard