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Published on Thursday, December 11, 2003

Whistleblower tells election problems

Assistant clerk sends email to council to flag irregularities casting doubt on outcome

By Liz Benneian, Oakville Today

"Elections are a fundamental part of our democratic society. If we can't even be sure the right person is in office, we might as well all pack it in," says Dwight Turner, Oakville's manager of administration and legislative services and assistant clerk.

It was his deep belief in the importance of the proper functioning of the democratic process that led him to doggedly try to address irregularities he witnessed following the municipal election on November 10, he says.

Turner has been an employee of the Town of Oakville for 15 years and has held the position of assistant clerk for 11. He has worked on every election since 1988 and while he says there are "always things that come up, running an election is a complex process", he says he has never seen the breadth of irregularities he witnessed during this election.

The irregularities include:

  • The large number of voting tabulators that weren't working on election day. Turner personally saw seven.
  • The number of Voting Location Supervisors (VLS) who did not balance their ballot tally on election night.
  • Many VLSs did not completely count their ballots prior to the polls opening. Turner says the LSs were told to assume when they received the bundles of ballots that the correct number of ballots in each bundle was what was marked on them. The public school ballots, for instance, came in bundles of 100. When a few were actually counted, however, some contained 101 or 102.
  • On the day following the election, 51 ballots were found to be still in the vote tabulators when Town staff retrieved them from the polling stations. When Turner brought this to the attention of Kim Galione, election coordinator, she said they didn't matter because "they were mainly for Ann Mulvale", implying that whether they had been counted or not, it wouldn't affect the results of the Mayoralty race. He thought it an odd answer that didn't address the issue of whether the ballots had been counted or not -- whether the process had been carried out correctly. He suggested to Galione that they should be kept separate in case a recount was ordered. On Tuesday, Turner examined them himself. "They were mostly for Burton and not just by a few more, by a lot more." He was later told the 51 ballots had not been kept separate as he had suggested and instead were put into respective ballot boxes.
  • From November 10 to 14 the ballots were kept in a room that could be accessed by anyone with a master key, and according to Turner, all senior staff have master keys. He also observed Town staff, who were not part of the election team, in the "ballots room".

On the Wednesday following the election, Turner recommended that, due to the irregularities, a recount be done. The irregularities he cited included ballots not tallying, the ballots found in the machines and voting supervisors being told they didn't have to count their ballots. He says Cathie Best, Town clerk, dismissed the idea. "She said she had counted them allup properly and there was no need for a recount. Everything balanced out," Turner says. He says he was perplexed by her answer because he thought at the very least she wold agree "that there was some margin for error." But instead, Turner describes her as "closing down." "She only wanted to hear evidence that supported what she already believed," he says.

He says he made several other attempts, through conversations and emails, to convey his concerns to Best. They were ignored.

Finally, on Friday, November 28, Best agreed to meet with him to talk about the election. Instead, he says, the talk turned into "a performance review".

He made one last attempt to outline his concerns to her in an email written on Monday, December 1. Two days later, when he had received no response and realized his deeply held concerns about the election were not going to be addressed, he decided to forward the email he had written to Best to Town councillors.

The reason he turned to the councillors rather than going to Best's boss, Joann Chechalk, the Town's chief administrative officer, was simple: "Cathie's organizational superiors couldn't order a recount. Only council or a judge can order a recount." But if council remained ignorant of the irregularities Turner witnessed, they'd have no reason to order one. And time was running out. Council only has 30 days to call a recount from the time the official results were announced. That means they have until December 13.

Turner sent the email to the Mayor and all Town councillors Wednesday morning. Town email is monitored. They email was flagged and removed from the system.

Turner was sent home for the day. He suspected his email might have been intercepted when he couldn't open the one he'd sent to himself. The following morning it was suggested he remain at home for the time being.

Turner realizes this may mean the end of his career at the Town though he hopes it won't. "I was trying to act in good faith and do what I thought was right. Now I just have to wait and see," he says.
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Categories: Features, News

Tags: election



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