Ballots from tight Labrador West race locked up ahead of judicial recount

The votes are in police custody and measures will be kept secure throughout the process.

Votes are in police custody and will be kept secure throughout the recount, which starts June 19

NDP candidate Jordan Brown, left, hopes to keep his narrow victory over Liberal incumbent Graham Letto. (CBC)

Labrador West saw a tight race in May's provincial election, and now security for the recount is just as tight.

Ballots cast in the district are in police custody to keep them secure throughout the judicial recount process.

On election night, Labrador West was decided by a mere five votes. NDP candidate Jordan Brown came out ahead of incumbent cabinet minister Graham Letto, giving the New Democrats a third seat and taking a majority government away from the governing Liberals.

Starting June 19, a judge and lawyers representing each of the candidates will go through the ballots to determine whether that initial result stands.

Lawyers and the judge discuss how the recount process will work at a hearing in St. John's on Tuesday. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

At a Supreme Court hearing Tuesday, the judge who will be presiding over the recount confirmed how the process will work.

The lawyer for the chief electoral officer and lawyers for each of the candidates will go through each of the ballots first. Ones that are obvious will be counted for who the vote was clearly intended for, and ones that aren't so obvious will be set aside.  

The pile of less-clear votes will then be reviewed again. Lawyers will argue their cases, but the judge will ultimately decide whether or not the vote should be counted. Three days have been set aside for the process.

While the general order has been established, lawyers will meet the judge again two days before the official recount to discuss any more nuanced issues with the rules they're each now reviewing. 

Lawyers representing the chief electoral officer and each of the district's three candidates were present Monday. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The results have already been recounted once, without a judge, but some special ballots — the kind sent in the mail by people who can't make advanced or regular polling — have never been opened, according to Bruce Chaulk, the province's chief electoral officer.

"They were rejected at the at the declaration envelope stage," he said outside the courthouse Tuesday.

"Because it's an unsupervised vote, there's a declaration envelope that has to be signed by the elector and if that's not signed, then that's one of the parts where it can be rejected."

Potential result

Chaulk doesn't expect those votes to qualify during the the judicial process and therefore believes there will be "no difference" in the result after votes are reviewed again.

"The only difference could be is if they decided a ballot shouldn't have been rejected, or there was a ballot counted that should have been rejected," he said.

Bruce Chaulk, the province's chief electoral officer, expects the election night results to stand after the judicial recount. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The ballots are currently being housed at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary detachment in Labrador City.

The judge said Tuesday they will be securely transferred to the Supreme courthouse in St. John's, where they'll be kept in a vault when not in use. When out, during counting breaks, a sheriff's officer will stand guard.

"It's always very secure," said Chaulk. "There's a lot of control around ballots and the ballot boxes themselves."

Elections officials doubled checked polling results a few days after the election May 15. They reported the same result as election night. The current vote count has Brown at 1,366 votes at Letto at 1,361.

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