Judgement upholds rights of voters: Government must amend Elections Act

The Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court has ruled that sections of the Elections Act concerning special ballots are unconstitutional, deciding in favour of an appeal launched following 2011 election results.

NDP candidate Julie Mitchell ran in the district of Burin-Placentia West against Progressive Conservative candidate Clyde Jackman who won by 40 votes, having received 179 special ballot votes to Mitchell’s 130. Without special ballots, Mitchell would have won the seat by nine votes.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy says he was astounded to find out how loose the rules were surrounding special ballots, and how significant an advantage they provided incumbents.

Mitchell launched a charter challenge of the provisions for special ballots. The Elections Act allows a person to cast their vote by special ballot before an election has been called, and before the slate of candidates is announced. Justice Gillian Butler decided that these rules for special ballots violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing every citizen the right to vote. In her ruling, she deemed the provisions for special ballots “inconsistent with the Constitution and of no force and effect.”

McCurdy noted that, because of their employment or other personal circumstances, many candidates are unable to publicly come forward until after the election has been officially called. By that time, the incumbent has had several weeks to encourage special balloting.

“What it comes down to is, we need legislation that ensures fairness for voters and candidates,” McCurdy added. “The judgement is clear – there’s an unfair advantage to incumbents which infringes on voters’ rights to be informed and knowingly cast their ballots. Let’s fix the Act now.”

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