By Belle Hatfield
Yarmouth’s returning officer Marie Atkinson has received written notice that one of the candidates in October’s election to fill the African-Nova Scotian (ANS) seat on the Tri-County Regional School Board is challenging the result.
Incumbent board member Michael Alden Fells lost 596-373 to challenger Darlene Lawrence. Lawrence won every poll except in the Municipality of Yarmouth where the two candidates tied.
Total votes cast are significantly higher than in 2008 and those votes were disproportionately cast in municipalities that conducted an electronic vote. In the Municipality of Yarmouth, where voters voted at polling stations using a paper ballot, the total votes cast were 15. In Clare, where voters used electronic ballots, 160 ballots were cast. No one in Clare voted for the ANS seat in 2004 and five people cast ballots in 2008. In 2006, census figures indicate there were 85 people in Clare who were African-Nova Scotian.
Fells has 21 days from election day to file a challenge in Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court.
The minority seats were set up by the province to ensure that African-Nova Scotians and Mi’Kmaqs had representation on school boards throughout the province.
Under the legislation that established the minority seats, only African-Nova Scotians are eligible to vote for the ANS seat. The problem is that law doesn’t provide the ability to challenge a voter’s eligibility, so the election is run on an honour system. Whether you show up in person or vote electronically, if you affirm that you are eligible to vote, your right to vote cannot be questioned.
“Every returning officer we’ve talked to in the province hates the concept. They would prefer to have it on your profile that you will be voting in a particular school board race,” said Dean Smith, president of Intelivote Systems Inc. His company designed the programs that delivered the electronic voting systems for the municipalities in southwestern Nova Scotia, including the Town of Yarmouth, that went with an electronic ballot.
The problem, he said is not with the design of the voting platform, it is with how the legislation is set up in Nova Scotia.
It doesn’t operate that way in Ontario, where there are four school board options -- English, French, separate and public boards.
“There are four different school boards and it is on your file because that’s where your [school] taxes go,” said Smith.
Here in the Tri-County District School board race, a list of voters who exercised the option to vote for the African Nova Scotian candidate is available for review at all the returning offices.
“I expect if I was the candidate and I knew that a bunch of people, either mistakenly or purposefully, included themselves in a category that they weren’t allowed to be, I would think it would be challengeable,” said Smith, adding that the electronic voting system worked as it was designed.