Edmonton Elections adds verification step after some voters receive wrong school board ballots

Edmonton Elections says it has changed its ballot verification process after receiving calls from 40 people concerned about incorrect public school board ballots given to voters at advance polls this week.

‘It’s very discouraging,’ public school board candidate Jan Sawyer says

Jan Sawyer said four voters contacted her about receiving the wrong public school board ballot at advance polls this week. (Submitted by Jan Sawyer)

Edmonton Elections says it has changed its ballot verification process after receiving calls from 40 people concerned about incorrect public school board ballots given to voters at advance polls this week.

In a news conference Thursday, city clerk and returning officer Aileen Giesbrecht said in a majority of the cases reported to Edmonton Elections, voters received correct ballots after speaking up at polling stations, but in some cases, voters said they received and submitted incorrect ballots.

Giesbrecht said election workers have brought up potential connectivity issues and staff believe that there were cases of election workers not refreshing their "Where to Vote" tool between voters.

"We believe this has taken place in very few voting stations and that these instances are limited," she said.

Edmonton Elections has since increased its staff, triple-checked technology and added another layer of ballot verification. As of Thursday, ballots will be checked by two poll workers before voters receive them.

Giesbrecht said because voting is secret, incorrect ballots cast cannot be changed. She said elections staff are contacting voters who complained.

Voters receive wrong ballots

Jeff Maruniak said he and his wife received public school board ballots for Ward G at the Mill Woods Senior and Multicultural Centre polling station on Monday. 

Maruniak, who lives in Ward I and did not recognize the candidates' names on his ballot, brought up the problem with poll workers.

He said that according to their tablet, his address was in Ward G, but after calling Edmonton Elections and verifying the location, staff voided his ballot and gave him the right one.

Jeff Maruniak said he received the wrong public school board ballot at an advance poll in Mill Woods this week. He spoke up about the error and eventually received the correct ballot. (Submitted by Jeff Maruniak)

He said he was not the only one complaining about the problem at the poll.

"Everything needs to be voided until the system's fixed," he said. 

Doreen Goltz, who lives in Summerside, said she tried to vote for Jan Sawyer in Ward I on Monday but received a ballot without Sawyer's name on it. 

She said her parents, who live in the same area, also received and cast the wrong ballots. 

"It's very discouraging," said Sawyer, who heard from Goltz and three other affected voters.

Sawyer said she contacted Edmonton Elections three times but had not heard back on Thursday morning.

"In a democracy, every vote counts and I feel as though Edmonton Elections isn't taking that premise seriously," she said.

Candidate Julie Kusiek, who is running to be a public school board trustee in Ward F, said she received a phone call from a voter on Thursday morning who had received the wrong ballot at the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre poll.

Kusiek said she will be telling voters about the potential problem while door-knocking between now and Election Day.

"It's certainly a bit disheartening and it just means we have to continue to work harder," she said.

Other candidates have also been posting about the problem on social media.

Long wait times, high turnout

Voters have also been reporting long wait times at advance polls.

Matt Grier, who voted in Hazeldean on Monday, said he waited an hour to vote.

"I was worried I wasn't going to make it home to pick my daughter up from the bus so I just filled out my ballot standing in line," he said. 

Goltz and Maruniak also said they experienced longer-than-normal wait times of between 45 minutes to an hour.

Voters line up to cast their ballots at an advance poll in Edmonton's Mill Woods neighbourhood on Oct. 7. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

In Mill Woods on Thursday afternoon, two advance poll stations had lineups out the door with between 20–25 people waiting to enter each building.

There has been a surge in advance voting this year. As of Wednesday night, nearly 19,000 voters had cast their ballots at advance polls. In 2017, 5,288 Edmontonians voted during the same time period.

Giesbrecht said this election is more complex due to voters submitting multiple ballots, including Senate and referendum ballots.

Advance voting is available until Oct. 13 from 1–7 p.m. 

Voters can find wards and voting locations using the city's online tool.