Essex Mayor Larry Snively pleads guilty to Ontario Elections Act violation

Essex Mayor Larry Snively has pleaded guilty over "procuring" ineligible voters to cast ballots during the Ontario town's October 2018 municipal election.

Snively was charged under the Municipal Elections Act of Ontario

Essex Mayor Larry Snively on Friday pleaded guilty to 'procuring' ineligible voters to cast ballots during the Ontario town's 2018 municipal election. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Essex Mayor Larry Snively has pleaded guilty to "procuring" ineligible voters to cast ballots during the Ontario town's October 2018 municipal election.

In his guilty plea during a court hearing Friday afternoon, Snively admitted "he induced or procured persons to vote when they were not entitled to do so," contrary to the Municipal Elections Act, court documents show.

Snively was fined $10,000 plus applicable costs, and has 180 days to pay.

During his appearance on Friday, Snively apologized for the proxies.

"At the time I did these proxies, I thought I'd done them properly," Snively said. "It was an oversight on my part."

"Yes, I'm guilty of not reading the proxy, I should have read the proxy," he said. "I sincerely apologize, and really didn't realize I was doing anything wrong at the time, but after the fact, I realized that I did."

When contacted by CBC News after the court proceeding, Snively said he had no comment.

Snively has told Essex council he intends to serve out the remainder of his term, but won't run in the 2022 municipal election, the Town of Essex said in a media release issued later on Friday.

"This is troubling and unfortunate and Council as a whole condemns the actions that lead to this offence," Deputy Mayor Richard MeIoche said in a statement.

Snively won the 2018 mayoral race by 117 votes, with 2,261 ballots cast in his favour, according to the official results. Runner-up Ron Rogers, among four mayoral candidates, secured 2,144 votes.

However, days after the election, Essex OPP began investigation after the Town of Essex received two official complaints of proxy ballots being signed without the consent of the electors.

Essex town hall is shown in a file photo. (CBC News)

In handing down the fine, Justice of the Peace Susan Hoffman said a monetary penalty was appropriate in Snively's case, due to the remorse demonstrated by Snively's guilty plea, as well as the impact the case could have on his political career.

"I can say, however, that in 23 years, I have never presided over a similar case," she said. "There is no real specific legal precedent that I might rely on to come to my decision."

Hoffman noted that the $10,000 fine takes into account Snively's "fairly modest financial means."

The Crown had asked court to impose a $15,000 fine.

Patrick Joseph Michael Ducharme, who represented Snively, said Friday's hearing went "as well as I could have expected."

Voting by proxy

According to a statement of facts agreed to by both the Crown and defence, Snively received voting proxy forms as part of the Guide for Candidates.

In addition, the statement reads that "during the 2018 election campaign period there were complaints by some [of] the candidates regarding the misuse of proxy votes."

The town clerk sent out a reminder to all candidates regarding proper use of the proxies, the statement reads.

The statement outlines the process to properly use proxy votes. The form must contain the name and address of the voter, and also the name and address of the appointed proxy.

It is unlawful to sign the form, however, if the name and address of the appointed proxy isn't included.

The proxy is then required to swear under oath that they have been appointed "in good faith, and has been instructed by the elector who has appointed them." The oath is to be sworn in front of the clerk, or a designate.

The agreed statement of facts says police would learn that Snively had campaigned in Essex, mainly in wards three and four, and offered electors a way to vote for him by proxy.

He used the voting proxy form to "procure persons who were not entitled to vote as they had not been lawfully appointed," the statement reads. "As a result of the investigation police identified 34 proxies who were not entitled to vote in the 2018 election."

In many instances, the proxy forms were used for electors whose first language was not English, according to the agreed statement of facts.

In one instance, Snively, while campaigning, spoke to an individual who agreed to vote for him. Snively then offered the option of voting by proxy.

The voter agreed, and Snively had him sign two proxy forms, one for the voter, and one for his wife, the agreed statement of facts reads.

Snively told the voter that signing the form was a vote for him, and he wouldn't have to vote in the election. However, the voter did not provide any instruction as to who his elector should vote for other than Snively.

Further, the voter's wife never spoke with Snively, and wasn't aware anyone would be voting on her behalf, the document states.

Later, Snively spoke with another voter, asking him and his wife to be proxies for the voters encountered previously, although the voter's wife was not present. The voter agreed, and received proxy forms later.

They then voted on behalf of the previous voters without ever receiving any instructions from them, the document states. They also swore they had been instructed to vote on behalf of the other individuals, despite that not being the case.

The statement reads that in another instance, a Town of Essex resident attended a polling station to cast her vote, but was told she had already voted.

The voter was confused, as she had not yet voted, and told the election officer that she was not allowed to vote as someone had already done so for her, by proxy, at an advance poll.

A meeting was called the next day at the voter's residence, and OPP were notified.

Voting rules tightened

Last May, Essex council agreed to tighten its proxy rules, which allows one person to vote on behalf of another, in response to the allegations against Snively.

Essex Coun. Sherry Bondy, who attended a closed-door meeting about the court proceeding later on Friday, said the process was disruptive to councillors, and residents.

"I want to let the residents know that faith in democracy has been restored in Essex council," she told CBC News. "I want the residents knowing that they can go to the ballot box this election knowing that there's trust again in the system."

"That's was the biggest thing."