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Fort Albany members call for appeal of election results

Wednesday September 3, 2014

Members of Fort Albany First Nation are calling for the appeal of its recent election results and the chief electoral officer said the “chances of granting such an appeal is good.”

The James Bay community held its election for chief and council earlier this month and it generated controversy after many ballots cast were deemed invalid and not counted to the overall vote count.

According to figures provided by Edmund Metatawabin, the chief electoral officer, a total of 345 votes were cast at polling stations in Moosonee, Timmins and Fort Albany. Of those, 218 (63 per cent) were considered spoiled.

Metatawabin said the votes were considered spoiled because the voter did not mark their ballot according to the election rules.

Per the election code, voters must write an ‘X’ in the box beside the candidate they are voting for. Checkmarks do not count, and the ‘X’ must not touch the perimeter of the box.

Metatawabin said this rule was determined through community meetings before the election, where community members “discussed and argued over what constitutes a spoiled ballot.”

“When I read the (final) numbers to the community after the election, there was a lot of surprise on their faces and shock that this happened,” Metatawabin said. “But you can’t place blame except that these were the instructions of the community.”

Metatawabin also said the scrutineers who oversee the ballot counting “exert(ed) too much influence in the counting of ballots.”

Each chief and deputy chief candidate are each allowed one scrutineer to oversee and witness the counting process.

“And so the misconception on their part, or they believed on their part, is that they could actually determine on their own what is considered spoiled and what is considered good,” Metatawabin said.

Once Metatawabin saw that the pile of spoiled ballots climbed higher than good ballots, it was too late as many votes had already been cast.

“The chief electoral officer would’ve been considered authoritative, and not allowing democracy to go through,” Metatawabin said. “You have to make a choice. In this case, I said this is the will of the community.”

One of the reasons for the complaints was that the voters were not given proper instruction before casting their vote. But Metatawabin said there were several opportunities to learn those instructions.

“We had a piece of paper at the voting table where people were registering, saying to put the ‘X’ inside the box please,” he said. “I don’t know what more we can do. It’s been stated in the community meetings, everyone heard about it. And we repeated that instruction at the ballot table.”

Metatawabin agreed the stringent directions in marking the ballots is not the way to go. Some community members had complained the check box on the ballot was too small, which would make it even more difficult for Elders.

“You cannot expect an Elder to adequately see the box. The box may be too small for them. And they’re not steady anymore. So people were saying we are discriminating against our Elders,” Metatawabin said, adding he agrees with the sentiment.

As of the morning of Aug. 22, Metatawabin had two letters of complaint and was expecting more by the end of the day.

As the chief electoral officer, Metatawabin has the authority to grant an appeal of the election result. He said the chances of him doing so is “good.”

At that point, he would have to decide whether to do a recount and this time count the ballots that clearly indicate who the voter is selecting. Or he could call for another election.

As it stands as of Aug. 16, Andrew Solomon was elected as chief of Fort Albany, beating out candidates Brent Edwards and Brent Nakochee.

Robert Nakogee was elected as the deputy chief over Charlotte Nakogee and Thomas Scott.

The seven band councillors voted in were Joseph Wheesk, Mary Sutherland, Marie Knapaysweet, Randy Knapaysweet, Lorna Sutherland Agatha Nakogee and Micheline Loone.

For the first time, Fort Albany had polling stations for off-reserve members in Moosonee and Timmins. Those stations were open on Aug. 9. The election within the community took place on Aug. 16.

A breakdown of the total ballots cast and those that were spoiled, by location:
Moosonee – 23 ballots cast; 20 spoiled.

Timmins – 62 ballots cast; 46 spoiled.

Fort Albany – 260 ballots cast; 152 spoiled.

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