Judge orders official recount of ballots in Chilliwack school board election

Kaethe Jones finished 34 votes out behind Jared Mumford who won the final seat

There will be a judicial recount into the final results of the Chilliwack school board election on Oct. 20.

The eighth place candidate in the race for seven trustee seats applied to the provincial court to order the recount after final numbers showed she fell just 34 votes short.

Kaethe Jones finished with 7,011 votes just behind the final trustee to be elected, Jared Mumford, who received 7,045 votes.

Judge Andrea Ormiston decided in court Wednesday that the narrow margin of votes taken with technical difficulties at Promontory Heights elementary due to a power outage met the test under the Local Government Act.

“I find that the preconditions that impose an obligation to recount have been met,” Ormiston said. “Given the slim margin between the votes, I’m not satisfied that there is any exception to those.”

The possible exception she had to consider was a line in the legislation that says a recount can be avoided if the outcome would not materially affect the result. But 34 votes amounts to a tiny percentage of the 24,700 ballots cast.

In Jones’ affidavit to the court, she claimed that scrutineers hired by fellow school board candidate Barry Neufeld witnessed a number of what they saw as irregularities with the process of the vote at various locations in Chilliwack.

“There appears to be some imperfection or perhaps some sloppiness with how the votes were conducted in the first place,” Jones’ lawyer Herb Dunton told the court.

Jones did not allege fraud or misconduct, but that how some ballots were counted or possibly not counted gave rise for the need for a recount.

“In the spirit of co-operation and respect, certainly nobody is alleging wrongdoing or anything of that nature. Mistakes are alleged,” Dunton said in opening remarks to Ormiston.

One specific complaint was about a voting machine at Promontory Heights elementary that stopped working when power came back on after a brief power outage in the area. A scrutineer said he saw the number 730 register on the screen, while the final tally on that machine registered 678 votes.

Some of what caused confusion for all watching was how the final results changed four days after election night when preliminary results were announced. It was then that Mumford was said to have received 582 votes from Sardis elementary on election night, but in phoning in the preliminary results, an election worker read 582 when it should have been 502.

“That has been explained,” the city’s lawyer Andrew Carricato told the court. “I haven’t heard any evidence suggesting that the final determination did not correctly calculate the number of valid votes.”

That is the third of three reasons in the Local Government Act to allow for a judicial recount. The first reason is that some votes were not correctly accepted or rejected. And the second is that the number of valid votes for a candidate were not recorded.

“All of the ballot accounts and vote tabulator tapes produced after the close of voting balanced out,” Carricato said.

Mumford’s name was on the affidavit as a respondent to the claim along with Chilliwack’s chief election officer Carol Friesen. Both attended the hearing.

But Ormiston agreed with Jones that there was enough uncertainty about possible votes that were not correctly accepted or rejected, and possibly that the number of valid votes for a candidate were not recorded.

Jones’ affidavit relied on claims made by scrutineers employed by incumbent candidate Barnabas (Barry) Neufeld, who finished second in the election. Jones claimed that there were “no checks and balances in place to determine whether people had voted more than once.”

Jones was among a slate of five anti-SOGI 123 candidates looking to dominate the board in a move to stop the LGBTQ anti-bullying resource from being used by teachers.

With the final audited results released four days after the election, four of the seven elected trustees were supportive of the ministry-approved SOGI 123. Jones, who finished just short of a seat, said in her campaign that her number one priority was “to protect our children from the dangerous influences of the SOGI 123 ideology.”

Jones was on the anti-SOGI 123 slate, and she and Erma Vietorisz did not get elected. Incumbents Heather Maahs, Barry Neufeld and Darrell Furgason did win seats on the board.

The four remaining candidates expressed support for the anti-bullying resource. Along with Mumford, Dan Coulter, David Swankey and Willow Reichelt were elected.

The problem now for the recount is time. The deadline for it to be completed is midnight on Nov. 2, and Friesen told the court it takes five seconds for a machine to read a ballot, not counting the time to put it in and take it out at the other end.

With 24,700 ballots to be recounted there was considerable discussion about how many machines would be needed, who all would be allowed to be present and where it will take place.

Friesen suggested Evergreen Hall was a good location, and all candidates in the election will be allowed to attend.

To speed things up, Carricato asked the court to consider not counting some polling stations where the vote difference wouldn’t matter, but both lawyers and Ormiston agreed they were in “uncharted territory” regarding the wording of this legislation.

• RELATED: Nearly 25,000 people cast ballots in Chilliwack

There is already one recount in a nearby election set to be undertaken by Ormiston earlier in the day due to a rare tie in votes. In the race for the position of director in Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) Electoral Area C (Hemlock Valley-Harrison Mills-Lake Errock), incumbent Wendy Bales and Annie Silver each received exactly 136 votes.

If the tie is maintained after a judicial recount, which needs to be completed by Nov. 2, they will draw lots to choose the winner.

• READ MORE: Tied: New Area-C director to be determined by draw

As this story was posted, the parties involved along with the judge were figuring out the details of the process for the recount and who exactly will be allowed to be present.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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