Nfld. & Labrador

PCs blast 'sketchy practices,' as at least 4 people allowed to vote by phone by Bruce Chaulk

Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk allowed four people to vote by phone. However, as legal advice provided Wednesday determined that is not allowed, it's not clear whether those ballots will be counted as part of Saturday's election result.

'This situation raises so many questions about this election. It’s deeply disturbing'

Four people were allowed to vote by phone by Elections NL. But, according to lawyers, they should not have been. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief electoral officer let four people vote by phone — something that is not allowed by electoral law, which he acknowledged in an interview just last month. 

There were issues with the special ballot kits due to "administrative errors," according to a statement from Elections NL on Wednesday, so Bruce Chaulk decided to let them cast their vote over the telephone.

It's not clear why he made that decision, since voting by telephone had already been ruled out as an option earlier in the election campaign.

"One Elections NL official confirmed the identity of the voter, and a second Elections NL official recorded the vote. This preserved the secrecy of the ballot," reads the statement.

But that's not an authorized way for people to cast their ballot, according to legal counsel who weighed in on the matter on Wednesday. 

Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk allowed four people to vote by phone after 'administrative errors' with their special ballot kits, according to a statement provided by an Elections NL spokesperson. (Mike Simms/CBC)

So Elections NL is now contacting the four people who thought their ballots had been cast and would be counted, to try to figure out if they can still vote another way. 

What's perhaps even more confounding is that Chaulk was well aware that voting by phone was not an option. 

In a February interview with The Canadian Press, Chaulk said Newfoundland and Labrador could not allow telephone voting as British Columbia did in its recent election because that province already had the legislation in place to do so.

"If I was to do a telephone vote, I'd be in court so fast, it'd make my head spin," he said at the time. 

PC candidate first raised the issue

Rhonda Simms, a PC candidate in Lewisporte-Twillingate, told CBC/Radio-Canada that a voter in her constituency contacted her on Tuesday to say that "a weeks-long effort" to try to obtain a ballot ended up with an offer for him to vote by phone.

Ultimately, the man was told that it would be impossible to mail him a new ballot and get it back to Elections NL before the deadline of March 25 at 4 p.m., said Simms.

So the man was told he could vote by phone, according to Simms. 

Simms said she doesn't blame electors for voting by phone if given the option, but said, "Elections NL is wrong to permit such sketchy practices."

"This situation raises so many questions about this election. It's deeply disturbing," said Simms. "Why is there special treatment being given to some individuals, while others have been denied the right to cast a ballot during this reckless pandemic election?" said Simms in a media release Wednesday morning.

'Mr. Chaulk has a lot to answer for': Crosbie

PC Leader Ches Crosbie said he has "no sympathy" for Chaulk, and said he should have been prepared, given the pandemic had been underway for almost a year when the election was called.

"This is an outrage and an insult to the public of Newfoundland and Labrador," he told reporters at a hastily called media conference on Wednesday morning. 

"Mr. Chaulk has an awful lot to answer for."

The election has "become a shambles," Crosbie said, amounting to "a slap in the face to the voting public."

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie says this election has become a 'shambles.' (CBC)

When asked if he was concerned about the perception of the election, Crosbie said that was something he was concerned about.

"There's been no election remotely as messed up in Canadian parliamentary history, and perhaps outside of Canada, in the last hundred years," Crosbie said.

"So I'm really upset that this spectacle has unfolded before the eyes of the rest of Canada and we have effectively become a laughing stock all because Andrew Furey, on the basis of modelling that doesn't exist, pulled the trigger on an election in very unfavourable conditions instead of waiting until it could be done safely."

Crosbie wouldn't say if he will dispute the election results, after they are released, in court. Crosbie called on Furey to step forward and be visible, given what he said was Chaulk's latest misstep.

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey says he does not share Ches Crosbie's concerns that Newfoundland and Labrador's election has made the province a laughing stock. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador YouTube)

"There are times of emergency, times when are institutions are under assault.… They need to know what his ethics are and where he stands," said Crosbie. 

Furey doesn't seem to share Crosbie's outrage about people being, improperly, allowed to vote by phone. 

"We understand that Elections NL has addressed the issue with the four voters. I'm glad this situation is being dealt with in a transparent way by Elections NL, as the mechanics of this election are its responsibility alone," reads a statement provided by a spokesperson for Furey. 

Furey also said he does not agree with Crosbie's allegations. 

"No. Newfoundland and Labrador is not a laughing stock and anyone who says otherwise is wrong," Furey said during the COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler and Stephanie Kinsella

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