PCs will 'likely' seek to have Saint John Harbour results thrown out, despite recount
Recount confirms PC candidate Barry Ogden lost to Liberal Gerry Lowe by 10 votes, but PCs allege double voting
The Progressive Conservatives will "likely" proceed with their application to have the election results for the close riding of Saint John Harbour thrown out, despite a recount of ballots confirming Liberal candidate Gerry Lowe's 10-vote win over PC candidate Barry Ogden, a lawyer for the party said Thursday.
The PCs allege at least 40 people in the riding were recorded as voting more than once.
"There's no suggestion that any one person has done something wrong or has done something inappropriate," said Kelly VanBuskirk.
"It's just a matter of looking at the documentation and finding very clear evidence of duplication, so we have to find out why that's the case."
The PCs had filed an application earlier this week alleging at least 40 instances where the unique combined poll number and elector number assigned to each voter appeared twice, but were advised by Elections New Brunswick officials they had to wait until the writ is returned, which only occurs after any recounts.
Once the writ is returned, the PCs have 30 days to resubmit their application.
Saint John Harbour was the closest race in last week's provincial election and has been at the centre of the fight for power between the PCs and Liberals, who both hope to form government.
Neither party won the 25 seats required for a majority in the 49-seat legislature.
If I had lost by 10, I'd have done the same thing.- Gerry Lowe, Liberal candidate
Blaine Higgs's PCs won 22 seats, while Brian Gallant's Liberals garnered 21.
The Liberals issued a statement on social media Thursday night, saying they are "pleased" with the recount and "hope the [Progressive] Conservatives accept the results so that Gerry can move forward to continue working for his constituents in the legislature."
Lowe's campaign team "has always acted with integrity and honour; any suggestion to the contrary is unfair to the people who elected him," the statement said.
Totals 'exactly right'
The riding recount, requested by Ogden, began in Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday and was completed Thursday morning.
"Based on this recount, which has been an exercise verifying that each vote counts, every vote counts, we've come to the conclusion through this exercise that the votes counted for each of the candidates in Saint John Harbour on election night are in fact exactly right," presiding Justice Hugh McLellan declared around 11:40 a.m.
The only deviation from the tabulation machine totals was one additional spoiled ballot, referred to by Elections New Brunswick as an "undervote," which didn't bear a vote for any candidate and didn't affect the numbers for Lowe or Ogden.
"The critical numbers here are that Mr. Ogden is in second place at 1,855 and Gerry Lowe is in first place at 1,865 and thus it's my duty to declare that Gerry Lowe has received the largest number of votes," said McLellan, who took the unusual step of allowing members of the media to film the courtroom process.
Ogden, who participated in the recount, showed no reaction and declined to comment outside the courthouse.
He did, however, congratulate Lowe and shake his hand.
Lowe, who only showed up as the recount was wrapping up, said he was not surprised by the results "because everybody said the machines work perfect."
"I never doubted it was wrong but, I mean, naturally there's always a chance," he said. "The other side of the coin, if I had lost by 10, I'd have done the same thing that the [Progressive] Conservatives did."
Recounts are granted, upon request, in any race decided by 25 votes or less.
Chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said the process went "very smoothly and relatively quickly," given the number of special ballots, advance ballots and ordinary ballots that had to be counted by hand.
She said she hopes the fact the recount upheld the election night results will reinforce the public's confidence in the tabulation machines.
VanBuskirk said it was a worthwhile process.
"If we look at the way democracies are under attack in other countries, I think the fact that we have a system that allows for this kind of scrutiny is important," he said.
"That's something that the public should feel really good about. I think it's something that helps reduce doubt."
Elections New Brunswick officials spent the morning sorting the advance ballots and ordinary ballots into piles by candidate at one table in the courtroom, while lawyers for Ogden and Lowe went through them by hand at another table, counting them aloud under the watchful eye of the judge.
VanBuskirk disputed two of the paper ballots, but McLellan ruled one was a vote for Lowe and the other was a spoiled ballot.
The first disputed ballot had an X beside Lowe's name, but also a "little squiggle" at the edge of the circle for Ogden, said McLellan. He ruled it as a vote for Lowe, just "sloppy penmanship."
The second disputed ballot had a large black X through all of the candidates' names, but part of the X extended into the circle beside Lowe's name. The judge ruled it "incidental." The voter's intention was to indicate "none of the above," he said.
The special ballots were dealt with on Wednesday.