2014 election followup: Irregularities swept under carpet. Transcript of City Council meeting (Dec 16), Vancouver

Voting dayThe ninety-day mark since the November 15 civic election in 2014 is quickly approaching , yet many questions regarding election irregularities have been diverted, ignored, or swept under the carpet. Many of them may have skewed the election results.

The role of the public on all of this continues to be enormous.  (We believe that many of the problems skewed the election in favour of the incumbent party, Vision Vancouver.)

This post contains the following:

  • Brief introduction to just one of many election irregularities (“over-votes”) that may have skewed the election outcome. (We have at least 19 other items of concern.)
  • Our observations regarding the Chief Election Officer’s report to City Council, and the ensuing discussion
  • Links to agenda, minutes, and audio of the meeting, plus links to other references
  • Full transcript of the discussion in Regular Council on December 16, 2014, regarding the Chief Election Officer’s report to City Council

Unfortunately, media have long-since moved on to other topics, and even during the election, it was rare for civic reporters to ask key questions about the conduct of the election itself. Clearly, so far the systems at City Hall and the Province have failed to convince us that the integrity of the 2014 election was protected. If you have serious concerns about the integrity of the Vancouver civic election, we encourage you to express them directly to the minister responsible: Minister Coralee Oakes, B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

TIMES OVER VOTED: One of many examples we are tracking is number of “times over voted” (or “over votes”) in which the optical reader registers more Vancouver elections, times over voted, 2005-2014ticks than permitted on a ballot. In 2014, new counting systems were used. Inexplicably, the race for City Councillor had an astounding increase in the number of over-votes (see graph below — we will cover this in more detail in a future post). The “over votes” in 2014 resulted in 593 voters’ ballots for City Councillor being rejected. Note that the last Councillor elected (Geoff Meggs) was only 512 votes ahead of the next candidate (Ian Robertson). We believe every one of those 593 ballots should be physically inspected by an independent authority before the ballots are destroyed, which could be as soon as eight weeks after the results were declared (on November 19, so we calculate the critical date as January 14).

REPORT BY CHIEF ELECTION OFFICER: Vancouver’s Chief Election Officer’s mandatory statutory report of the election results went to City Council at a regular Council meeting on December 16, 2014. Unfortunately, due to a “technical problem,” no one outside the Council Chambers could see or hear her report, as no audio or video record of her report to council was streamed online. An audio recording was later posted online at our request, however. The City’s website (link below) provides a link to the report. Further below on this post is our transcript of the ensuing discussion by City Council.

OBSERVATIONS: Our main observations of the Council discussion are that:

  • Councillors Carr, Affleck and Ball attempted to raise questions about problems with the 2014 civic election.
  • Vision Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson (acting and Chair of the meeting) and Councillor Andrea Reimer succeeded in “changing the channel” so that concerns about the election were not aired during the meeting. They actively prevented that discussion. They deflected City Hall’s responsibility for integrity of the election to Election BC and the Provincial government. They redirected discussions away from the execution and outcomes of the 2014 election, instead to discussions about the next election (2018).
  • City Manager Penny Ballem and Chief Election Officer Janice MacKenzie were enablers, helping to delay and deflect any discussion in Council.

CityHallWatch has already posted a statement by Elections BC clearly declaring that “Elections BC has no authority or role in the administration of local elections in British Columbia.” Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver’s Chief Election Officer alone is invested with the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of the civic election. Any citizens unsatisfied with her actions or responses are left with the burden of initiating action to bring the matter to the Supreme Court. 

RELATED LINKS

Agenda of the December 16, 2014 Regular Council meeting
Contains links to the Chief Election Officer’s report, an audio clip of the segment, and minutes of the meeting:
http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20141216/regu20141216ag.htm

*****

Election 2014 final report: Incomplete. Chief Election Officer makes no mention of serious issues.
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/official-final-election-report-2014/

Election Offences: Penalties up to $10,000, imprisonment 2 years, ban from office 7 years
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/election-offences-and-penalties/

City Council week of Dec 15-19: Local election results, new proposals, fees, budget topics
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/week-in-city-council-dec-15/

**************

Here is the entire text of the minutes of the December 16, 2014 Regular Council meeting, pertaining to the Chief Election Officer’s report to City Council.

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORTS
1. Local General Election Results – 2014
December 3, 2014
MOVED by Councillor Deal
THAT the Administrative Report dated December 3, 2014, entitled “Local General Election Results – 2014” be received for information.
CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY

(That’s it, folks.)

**************

Transcript of Regular Council, City of Vancouver, 16-Dec-2014
Agenda item #1 “Local General Election Results – 2014” (Report by Chief Election Officer, Janice MacKenzie)

Agenda with links to minute official report, minutes, and audio recording: http://former.vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20141216/regu20141216ag.htm

(Note that due to a technical problem, City Hall did not stream online the live video of this segment of the meeting, but upon an request by CityHallWatch, an audio recording (no video) of the meeting was posted on the City website. This transcript was typed by a volunteer for CityHallWatch, and edited slightly for brevity. Original text available upon request.)

Mayor Gregor Robertson (Chair of meeting): Councillor Carr, you have the floor.

Councillor Adriane Carr: Thanks, Mr. Mayor, thanks for the report. My question is really around the fact that this is a report simply on results, not on the election, correct? Not on the mechanics of the election, but just the results. If there are citizens that have raised questions regarding the election itself that might impact the results… I’m aware that there’s been information floating around. I don’t know if those questions have come to you or gone to the B.C. government — questions of over-votes on the council ballot. If that were to change, or to be looked at and, and create a change, how would we incorporate that if we’ve already accepted these as the final results?

Janice Mackenzie (Chief Election Officer): Councillor Carr, the vote tabulators — the tabulator counts — have been accepted. In response to receiving enquiries, there have been a couple of enquiries from various citizens, concerning just explanation of some of the results and such. And those instances I wrote directly to the individuals to respond to them. With respect to over-votes, over-votes basically what those are is, if an individual when marking a ballot, marks too many — selects too many councillors as an example — so they select 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 or whatever it is, that race is not counted. The rest of the ballot is. And so the tabulator records the over votes. And how it records those over votes is that — in the instance of a Councillor race — if an individual marked just one too many — it’s 10 votes, 10 over votes are recorded for that race. Likewise if it was a Park Board race, and they voted for 8 or 9 or 10 or what have you, the over-vote for that race would be would be 7. So for the election, with the results, we are authorized under the Election Bylaw to use vote tabulators for counting. It also indicates we are also required to go through a very rigorous logic and accuracy testing relating to that, both before and after. And because the machines were operating — passed all of the tests, both before and after — they’re considered to be operating effectively. And so, therefore, the results are counted. So over votes are something completely separate. It’s letting us know that this many over-votes were recorded in a particular race.

Carr: Okay, thank you. There are also citizens who have raised concerns around several of the issues that might, if they were pursued, change the vote outcome. I’m not quite sure what would happen, but I’m again concerned whether or not it’s prudent to accept the report if there may be questions. One of them was around accessibility of voters in the advance polls, from parts of the city. Another that I have heard of — and again, information has been flowing around through the public on this — has to do with communications to voters on voting day that may be inappropriate, and that may be looked into by Elections BC. What do we do in that situation? If we accept these and something comes up later that really does put at question some of the results?

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): Council is not being asked to accept these. I am reporting out on the official results. Now there is a challenge process that allows electors to review the election materials. And that period has been open for some time now, and should as a result of that review, that a challenge be made on the election, then it would be up to the Courts to determine the outcome of that. So basically, unless otherwise told by the courts, these are the official results.

Carr: Okay, so if anything were to happen in the future, through a challenge, it doesn’t change the fact that these are the current official results?

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): That is correct.

Carr: Okay, Thank you

Robertson: Right, Councillor Reimer is next.

Councillor Andrea Reimer: Yeah, so just to clarify, you were not being asked to approve anything here or endorse anything. You are required by law to give us this for information, but by virtue of the fact that we were all candidates in the last election, it’s not up to us to certify the election results.

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): That is correct. The Vancouver Charter requires that I report on the results of the election, in this instance, by the end of this week, and I’m fulfilling that requirement.

Reimer: And this information also goes to the Province, I assume, since they are ultimately the certifier?

Chief Election Officer: This information went to the Province, when I declared the election — the official results of the election — a month ago.

Reimer: And if there were issues that Councillor Carr or a member of the community had with the election, they would take it up with the Province and the Province would use that in their consideration of the report?

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): It would depend on the nature of the issue that came up. There were certain areas where the Province is responsible for overseeing the election, like when it comes to the campaign financing. But in most other areas of the election, it falls under, well, it’s me as Chief Election Officer. However, if a challenge is raised, then it goes to the Courts — to the Supreme Court, actually.

Reimer: It would seem odd, that we as a Council, elected through an election, would then be able to overturn the results of our own election.

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): Council does not have that authority.

Reimer: Right, okay, so just to clarify that. So you will be bringing … We did establish some policies as well, before any of us were — before the election period — which is Council’s right to say it wants to increase voter turnout. A variety of other activities. That report, from my memory, was April? It’s in the spring of the year after the election that you bring back a report about how well the policies were implemented, you know, whether these goals were met and then at that point council could provide suggestions for forward elections, as opposed to commentary on past elections.

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): Actually, we have not brought forward a report in the past. It’s always Council’s prerogative to ask for additional information. In past elections, it was a very manual process, with the exception of the use of the tabulators. And so the sort of information that was available to the elections staff was quite limited. And by virtue of having “vote anywhere” — we were using an electronic voters list, and so there will be some additional information available to us. But as a matter of practice, we haven’t come forward a few months after the election and presented a report to Council. What we have done in moving forward — we did have a presentation, we did speak to Council about preparations for, at that point, it was for the 2014 election. So it was nearer to 2014 than immediately following the 2011 election.

Reimer: It was probably in my mind thinking about the Engaged City report and something about broad policy related to elections.

Chief Election Officer: I suspect you’re right.

Reimer: So to summarize then, there’s no legal avenue nor is there a past practice of Council providing commentary on past elections as a sitting Council.

Chief Election Officer: That is correct.

Reimer: Okay, thank you.

Chair (Robertson): Okay, thanks, Councillor Reimer. Councillor Affleck?

Councillor George Affleck: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Well we sort of heard that this is not a full report. And I’m surprised that we don’t have a further report from you. I think there are a lot of questions that I’m sure you’ve received, as have we. So I’m going to throw a few of them out there, whether or not you can answer them, and perhaps a motion might come on the floor regarding the report back from you further down the road. But some of the issues that have come up — some of them are related to some of the lineups in some of the locations. This challenge that staff had with dealing with those lineups and how we communicated. I’ll just throw all these questions out there, and you can…

Reimer: Point of order, Mayor Robertson.

Chair (Robertson): Councillor Reimer, you have a point of order.

Reimer: The City Clerk and Chief Elections Officer has just established that the correct venue, the legally correct venue for dealing with this, is the Elections BC function, sorry, the Provincial legislation that governs local government elections. So I feel that we are well over our boundaries doing this. I think all of us have the ability to put those issues to the Province, but this would not be the correct venue, according to the Clerk, for doing that.

Affleck: If I may Mr. Mayor, I think that it’s important for us to make public some of the questions that we are having — to provide the City Clerk and Chief Elections Officer, to understand some of those questions, so it’s in the public forum for her and for the people of the City to hear that we are thinking about these questions being addressed — hopefully down the road if not in the report, however — internally or whatever. But I think it’s important that these questions be made public and I’d like that opportunity. And perhaps the City Clerk can provide a clarification on that.

Reimer: Mayor Robertson, I’d put that forward if I thought I was legally allowed to do so. I was given clear advice that legally these questions are put to the Province, so did not bring these questions to the incorrect venue.

Chair (Robertson): Thanks Councillor Reimer. Just to the point of order, Madame Clerk and Chief Elections Officer, if you could inform Council — or Madame City Manager — as to the legal details of this, and advising Council on the appropriateness of those questions being aired out here in Chamber.

Penny Ballem (City Manager): Thanks Mr. Mayor and Council. As the City Clerk and Chief Elections Officer has stated, this report is for information for Council. It’s a statutory requirement that she report back to Council with the results of the election. The issues of planning the election and the logistics and mechanics of things that happened, voter turnout, outreach to achieve voter turnout at advanced polling — there were many different elements. Running an election is a complex process. I think what would be best if council wishes to have a discussion about what from their perspective they thought worked well or didn’t and want a comprehensive report back, there can be a motion brought to the table. But I think to be discussing that in the context of this report … this is a report that fulfills a statutory requirement that’s very simple and very finite. It is not a report that is required to be the basis for a broad discussion and debate around things that Council would like to ask the Chief Election Officer to consider around the time of our next election. So that would be my recommendation Mr. Mayor and Council.

Chair (Robertson): Okay, thank you for that and I agree with the advice given by City Manager and our City Clerk in terms of this. But questions that are specific to the report itself certainly are fair game. Councillor Affleck?

Affleck: Okay. Specific to the report. I guess the question will be whether or not we can bring a motion forward, if it would be now, or at the end of the meeting that would be more appropriate? Mr. Mayor what would you recommend? If we bring a motion forward regarding a further report on this, would you prefer that now or at the end of the meeting?

Chair (Robertson): On notice at the end of the meeting.

Affleck: Then I’ll hold back til then. Thanks very much.

Chair (Robertson): Okay, thanks Councillor Affleck. Councillor Ball?

Councillor Elizabeth Ball: Yes, thank you. I don’t think my question will be a problem. Which is that we have heard from a number of seniors that I talked to who were not able to vote, because of the long lines. Now when they have told me this, they want to know who to talk to. So we have people out there. This one lady said to me, “Dear I may not live till the next election but I hope I can change things before then.” So my saying I can’t talk about it is extraordinarily frustrating. So I’d love it if even you could give us a memo or whatever, saying exactly how this person can communicate with the right person to talk to, as opposed to just saying “Talk to the Province. Call the Province. Or call Elections BC.” If we could actually have a way to do it. And a number of seniors expressed to me they don’t have computers, so giving them an e-mail is not helpful in any way. So perhaps, if that’s possible, and we can move forward in that way, that would be great.

Chair (Robertson): Madame City Manager.

City Manager (Ballem): What I can suggest, Councillor Ball, is the Chief Elections Officer has received all kinds of questions. That’s part of running an election. And any of your constituents who have a question or have a concern about their experience, they should feel free to write in to the Chief Election Officer. That’s absolutely appropriate. And she in turn responds to those issues. And I think that, looking at all of the various dynamics of this election – because there was a huge amount of work done across the organization to get the vote out — which I think it was very successful. But we are happy to bring that back at a sort of crude up level. But any individual — because many of them have written and asked questions, and the Election Officer’s job is to respond to those, so feel free to ask them to write in.

Councillor Ball: So you’ll make the address available so we can get it out there?

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): The address is City Hall. If they write to me, as Chief Election Officer, or even if it comes to me as City Clerk, I will respond to the letter.

Councillor Ball: Oh excellent. So thank you very much. Because that wasn’t clear when we kept saying it’s Elections BC, I don’t think was clear who they talk to.

Chief Election Officer (MacKenzie): It’s Elections BC for campaign financing and for the advertising on election day, but for most other matters concerning the planning of the election, they can write me.

Councillor Ball: We’ll try to alleviate some of the frustration and get that out there. Thank you.

Chair (Robertson): Okay that’s all I have for speakers on Administrative Report Number 1, so I need a mover. Councillor Deal will move the recommendations. Any debate on the motion? All those in favour? Any opposed? And that carries.

*********

Postscript: City Council failed to return to the topic of the motion Councillor Affleck was intending to present to Council at the end of the meeting. He was going to request a formal report from the Chief Election Officer about public concerns with execution of the 2014 election.  Time is of the essence in the aftermath of an election if the election’s integrity and results are to be addressed.

One thought on “2014 election followup: Irregularities swept under carpet. Transcript of City Council meeting (Dec 16), Vancouver

  1. I wonder whether people who tried to vote but were not able to do so would have grounds for legal action. I think that’s the only way anyone will allow anything to stick to anybody. I’m a huge fan of writing letters for sure, but let’s say enough denied voters write in to have maybe changed the outcome. Nothing will happen. I mean, has it ever happened that a victorious party voluntarily ceded power due to election problems? Sam Sullivan didn’t after the James/Jim Green scandal, and I don’t see it as likely that Vision would do so.
    Citizens need to stop trusting that some kind of moral imperative exists to govern with integrity. It’s a legal imperative, and the courts are the only way to enforce it. As to who does the enforcing, that’s our job. Democracy gives citizens duties, not just rights.

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