The Chilliwack school district faces a bill of between $30,000 and $35,000 for the judicial recount into the results of the Oct. 20 election.
That’s the preliminary estimate provided by the City of Chilliwack, which conducted the recount on behalf of the district.
City hall said on Nov. 20 that some of the bills for the recount are still trickling in, including legal costs, which has led to the delay in producing an accurate figure.
The recount came about after the election that saw the final seat on the school board go to Jared Mumford with 7,045 votes, just 34 votes ahead of Kaethe Jones with 7,011 votes.
A close vote does not in and of itself trigger a judicial recount, indeed because of the electronic voting machines, the final result changed by just one vote, with a lost ballot leading the difference between the two to change to 33 votes.
Before and after the laborious two-day process of running all 24,700 ballots through vote-tabulating machines for a second time, there were questions about how much it would cost and who should foot the bill.
And while the application for a judicial recount was brought forward by trustee candidate Jones, and the outcome of the recount did not change the result, Judge Andrea Ormiston ruled that she is off the hook for the costs because Ormiston ruled the recount was warranted in the first place.
The reasons for the recount included some confusion over what happened with a voting machine following a power surge after a power outage at Promontory Heights elementary on voting day. Scrutineers for candidate Barry Neufeld reported what they saw as discrepancies during the election, which served as evidence to cause the recount.
The source of some other confusion was a preliminary count 80 votes higher for Mumford on election night compared to the final audited results. This was simply explained by Chief Election Officer Carol Friesen as a mistake on election night reading the printouts from the voting machines.
After the recount, lawyers for Jones, Mumford and the City of Chilliwack made submissions on the subject of costs to Ormiston.
If the application to conduct the recount was brought frivolously and/or the conduct of the applicant during the recount unnecessarily prolonged it, then the judge might have ordered Jones to pay at least some portion of the costs. But the fact that the judge agreed to the application to conduct the recount in the first place meant it legally wasn’t unnecessary.
“I do not find that Ms. Jones was capricious or obstructive in the judicial review,” Ormiston said in not ordering costs to Jones.
Jones’ lawyer Herb Dunton argued that making her pay the costs would be like “silencing dissent” and could have a “chilling effect.”
Mumford’s lawyer Rachel Roy wanted Jones to pay Mumford’s costs, a routine procedure in civil proceedings, she argued. Roy maintained the original position that the recount was unnecessary given how reliable the electronic voting machines proved to be.
“These machines have been in use for some time,” she said. “I would suggest they are not new-fangled computers. Candidates had information sessions about them. [Chief election officer Carol] Friesen and her staff were continually accessible to talk about the machines.”
In the end, Ormiston said the lack of clarity in the law about exactly when a recount should be ordered made it unreasonable to order Jones to pay the costs.
“I think there is a gap between the legislation and the use of these machines and I think in large part that is why we are here.”
The exact details on the costs to the school board are not yet available, but the largest portion of the costs are likely the 16 election officials working long hours for two days to conduct the recount, in addition to legal costs.