Where have all the voters gone? St. John's election plagued by missing ballots, low turnout

With a week to go before Election Day, problems are plaguing the St. John's vote.
St. John's resident Bob Hallett hasn't received his ballot yet. 'The biggest gobshite maw-mouth in the city can't vote,' he says. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Lower than normal voter turnout (so far). Reports of people who haven't received their ballots yet, as well as other people receiving too many.

With a week to go before election day, problems are plaguing the election in St. John's.

Musician and business owner Bob Hallett is still waiting for his ballot.

"I've lived in the same house for 20 years. I've voted in every municipal, provincial and federal election, and according to the city's website, I'm registered to vote," he said. 

The biggest gobshite maw-mouth in the whole city of St. John's can't vote. What is going on here?- Bob Hallett

Hallett didn't receive a ballot for the 2013 election either. Voters have the option of going to a polling station on the day of the election, but he says he's worried that some people might not make the effort.

"I wonder how many other people never got a ballot and are not as inclined as I am to complain about it and are just not going to bother," he said.

"We have a real problem in this province of apathy when it comes to municipal elections. We have a real problem in this city of a government that's not very well-engaged with the populace."

Voters can cast ballots in person or by proxy

Karen Chafe, the city's elections co-ordinator, says all the ballots have been sent out, and they're working to accommodate anyone who hasn't received one. 

"We've sent out our ballots to everyone that we had listed on the voters list, and we've been working all this week for those who've not been included. If they call in or register online, we're working diligently to post subsequent vote-by-mail kits to those who didn't get on the list originally."

Karen Chafe, the elections co-ordinator for the City of St. John's, says people who haven't received a ballot can vote on Election Day. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

For people mailing their ballots, rather than dropping them off, they need to be mailed by Friday to be guaranteed to be counted on Election Day.

Hallett says voting should be made easier for people, not harder, but he's troubled by the broader implications of problems with the ballots. 

'Municipal Affairs should look into this'

"If this council can't even organize a mail-in ballot, why should we trust them to do these much more complicated and expensive and difficult things?"

He wants the provincial government to conduct an investigation.

"They have no idea where these ballots have gone. They don't know who has them," he said.

"They don't know if I have 10 ballots in my house or none, and I don't think any of them care. I'm really wondering what kind of election they're running here. The Department of Municipal Affairs needs to look into this."

Turnout gains momentum, still behind past

Meanwhile, voter turnout continues to lag behind previous years.

Chafe said voting has picked up this week, with about 14.5 per cent of ballots returned so far, up from just over three per cent last week. But by this point in the last three elections, the return rate has been in the mid-40s.

Unless he receives his ballot by the end of the week, Hallett's worried he won't be able to vote, as he'll be out of town on Tuesday.

"The biggest gobshite maw-mouth in the whole city of St. John's can't vote. What is going on here?" said Hallett.


  • An earlier version of this story included information provided by the City of St. John's that people could vote by proxy. That is incorrect. People can put their ballot in the mail up to and including Sept. 22, drop the ballot at St. John's City Hall up to and including Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. or vote in person on Sept. 26.
    Sep 20, 2017 11:17 AM NT