CityHallWatch asks Minister to prohibit destruction of 2014 Vancouver election ballots: Evidence still needed to verify/explain irregularities

Times over voted ballots rejected Vancouver 2005 to 2014

(Epilogue: After considerable delay we received an e-mail from Minister Oakes, rejecting the request to intervene to prevent the destruction of the ballots. Several days later, we received a report from Vancouver’s Chief Election Officer that the ballots would be destroyed immediately.)

Many irregularities in the 2014 civic election have yet to be explained. Public scrutiny is critically important.

Legislation permits (but does NOT require) Vancouver’s Chief Election Officer to destroy the ballots after January 14, 2015.

On January 12, 2015, CityHallWatch wrote to the responsible minister (Minister Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) asking that she prohibit the destruction of ballots until questions can be answered after an independent authority visually/manually inspects the ballots in question. CityHallWatch wrote to the City’s Chief Election Officer (Janice MacKenzie) today (January 14) with a request not to destroy the ballots. Further below is the text of both e-mails.

But first, see this table, a summary of data we have tabulated directly from the City of Vancouver website.

Careful analysis is required for the information below. To prove that the integrity of the 2014 election was protected, the Chief Election Officer has an obligation to provide convincing and independently verifiable explanations. Note especially the huge discrepancies in “times voted,” “blank votes,” “times under voted,” and more over the past four elections. Were there problems with the new optical readers of the ballot cards? Were there hardware or software problems with the entirely-new system? Were votes compiled incorrectly? Was the data tampered with? Were ballots tampered with? Public trust in the election depends on the answers to those questions.

TABLE: Comparison of official municipal election results in City of Vancouver spreadsheets – City Councillor race

City Council Race 2005 2008 2011 2014 Terminology in 2014
Registered Voters 404,958 403,663 418,878 415,978 Registered Voters (CoV)
Times Counted 124,285 144,823 1,806,680 Times Counted
Times Blank Voted 3,366 3,396 4,411 119 Ballots Cast – Blank
Times Over Voted 86 134 159 5,930 Times Over Voted
Number of Under Votes 202,519 168,632 198,057 347,939 Number of Under Votes
? ? ? ? 1,452,811 Counted Votes

Source: City’s official spreadsheets for past elections. http://data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue/municipalElectionResults.htm

Related coverage:
Vancouver civic election: Investigation demanded into soaring number of rejected ballots
(Sam Cooper, The Province, 13-Jan-2015)
Community activist wants increase in rejected election ballots investigated
(Joanne Abshire, News1130, 13-Jan-2015)
NPA Coun. George Affleck seeks review of 2014 Vancouver election
(Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier, 14-Jan-2015)
http://www.vancourier.com/news/npa-coun-george-affleck-seeks-review-of-2014-vancouver-election-1.1730910
See Councillor George Affleck’s Facebook page for text of his motion for Regular Council Jan 20, 2014. Here: https://www.facebook.com/georgeaffleck. (For convenience, we also copy the text of his motion at the bottom of this post.)

Observations from table:

  1. Terminology and numbers require verification, as the City appears to be inconsistent in use of terminology for “count” versus “ballot”
  2. Why did registered voters go down from 2011 to 2014 despite a supposed increase in population? According to BC Stats, the city’s population increased from 621,489 in 2011 to 640,915 last year, but there were almost 3,000 fewer registered voters in 2014.
  3. See apparent discrepancies in “blank votes,” “over votes” and “under votes” – which could have skewed election outcomes.
  4. Important: 5,930 “over votes” were not counted. Explanation needed. Could this have been due to an error in the automatic ballot readers wrongly rejecting ballots? Note the small gap from tenth to eleventh place finishers in 2014: just over 500 votes. If the “over votes” were a mechanical problem, they could have significantly altered the election outcome on City Council. Note also the number from 2005, 2008 and 2011 were between 86 and 159. Suddenly in 2014, there were 5,930. (On January 13, City staff explained to The Province reporter Sam Cooper that the 5,930 should be divided by ten, for 593 ballots rejected in 2014).

**********

Partial explanations from City of Vancouver election office to a citizen who inquired.

Over Votes: Did not count in any race.

Under Votes: Allowable under votes for races with more than one position available were counted and included in the figure Counted Votes.  This business rule is best explained by example.

  1. For example, a ballot for Councillor (10 available positions) has 10 votes
    * All 10 votes are counted in Counted Votes
  2. A ballot for Councillor has 6 votes
    * 6 votes are counted in Counted Votes
    * 4 votes are counted in Number of Under Votes
  3. A ballot for Councillor has 11 votes
    * All 11 votes are not counted in Counted Votes
    * All 11 votes are counted in Times Over Voted

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

E-mail, CityHallWatch to Ms. Janice MacKenzie, Chief Election Officer, City of Vancouver
cc. Dr. Penny Ballem, City Manager
12-January-2015, 8:35 AM

Dear Ms. MacKenzie,
Please find below a copy of our message to the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development requesting that she prohibit you as Chief Election Officer from destroying ballots from the November 2014 election until concerns about the significant jump in “times over voted” (resulting in rejection of 593 voter choices in City Councillor race) is confirmed by visual inspection of the affected ballots by an independent authority.
In my letter to you dated December 4, 2014, among the list of many concerns and questions about the election (many still not resolved satisfactorily and requiring further followup), I asked, “What is the explanation for the huge jump in ‘over votes’ compared to previous years.”
Your written response on December 12 did not answer or even acknowledge the question.
Attempts by elected officials to raise questions about the rejected ballots (as well as other concerns about the election) were circumvented by the Mayor (acting as Chair) and one Councillor as well as yourself and the City Manager  — at least that is what an objective observer would conclude. (See transcript of meeting: 2014 election followup: Irregularities swept under carpet. Transcript of City Council meeting)
At the very least, it appears the City has made an error in the methodology for reporting of “times over voted” in the 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2014 elections. The City’s website indicates 86, 134, 159, and 5,930 “times over voted,” respectively. A public explanation of this discrepancy would be a first step. To be consistent with previous years, the number reported in 2014 should have been 593, it appears. The average for the previous three elections is 126, so 593 in 2014 represents nearly aquintupling of the rejected ballots (i.e., voters) in the Councillor race.
The response to The Province by the City’s Corporate Communications officer (saying the jump could be explained by a 10% increase in voting in 2014) does not adequately explain the quintupling, which could also be explained by hardware or software technical errors, or even tampering with the ballots or data.
Legislation does not require you to destroy the ballots immediately today (eight weeks after election results declaration); it specifies the earliest date on which you can destroy them, but not the latest.
The functioning of many parts of the civic election system in Vancouver is largely opaque to the public. Voters and citizens are required to place their trust in the Chief Election Officer and municipal government to ensure the integrity of each civic election in Vancouver. Public trust in this election and every election (including the next, in 2018) is earned by the capacity to verify. Premature destruction of the ballots, however you may attempt to justify it, will convey the wrong message to the public, and leave a cloud hanging over the 2014 election and this issue in particular. If you had already arranged for immediate destruction of the ballots today, I believe a simple phone call to the contractor or service provider would halt the destruction.
Please do not destroy the ballots until a visual inspection can be conducted of the 5,930 voting cards as described above. Once you publicly commit to delaying the destruction of the ballots, we would like to discuss the mechanisms of how verification can be conducted.
Sincerely,
R. Helten
Coordinator, CityHallWatch Media Foundation
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: CityHallWatch 
Date: Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 1:08 PM
Subject: Request to prohibit ballot destruction (City of Vancouver): Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
To: “CSCD CSCD:EX” Minister Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
Cc: “OfficeofthePremier, Office PREM:EX” , Office of Attorney General Suzanne Anton

Minister Coralee Oakes, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
Minister, Province of British Columbia
cc. Hon. Christy Clark, Premier
cc. Hon. Suzanne Anton, Attorney General,
Dear Minister Oakes:
We are writing to respectably request that you as Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development notify the City of Vancouver’s Chief Election Officer that she is prohibited from destroying any voting cards (ballots) from the November 15, 2014 civic election until they can be physically inspected by an acceptable independent authority, and a satisfactory explanation of irregularities be provided to the public. The date of possible destruction is imminent (January 14, we believe).
Trust in the integrity of each election is a pillar of democracy, but we have numerous (about twenty) concerns about the execution of this election.
We understand that legislation permits the Chief Election Officer to destroy ballots eight weeks after the official declaration of the election results. However, a number of things should be confirmed before they are destroyed.
As just one example we wish to emphasize today, in the race for Councillor, the number of “times over voted” (“over-votes”) jumped dramatically in 2014 compared to 2011, 2008, and 2005 elections. According to official records on the City’s open data website, the “times over voted” in those three years were 86, 134, and 159, respectively. The number in 2014 was 5,930. (See graph, attached.)
In the case of “over-votes,” the optical reader registers more ticks than permitted on a ballot (the maximum is ten in the case of Councillor). For the Councillor race, an over-vote of 10 is recorded whenever a voter selects more than the allowed number of votes for that race.
In 2014, new optical readers and electronic systems were used in Vancouver. Voters may justifiably wonder if the system was counting the ballot cards correctly. We also have a number of other concerns that would require visual inspection of actual ballots in order to be resolved.
I wrote to the Chief Election Officer on December 4 with eleven topics of concern. In her December 12 response, she responded satisfactorily to some questions, but unsatisfactorily or not at all to others. Regarding “over-votes,” I requested an explanation for the huge jump in over-votes in 2014. Her response avoided the question. She failed to acknowledge and respond to this question.
She stated that “vote tabulators underwent extensive logic and accuracy testing both before and after the election.” But considering the enormous and unexplained jump in “over-votes,” we believe it is unacceptable to leave questions about the integrity of the election, including “over-votes,” unresolved. For example, were the optical readers giving “false positives” — perhaps registering a spec of dust on the optical reader or ballot as a tick, thereby invalidating the voter’s choices for Councillor?
The “over votes” in 2014 resulted in 593 voters’ ballots for City Councillor being rejected. Note that the last Councillor elected was only 512 votes ahead of the next candidate (who was not elected). Every one of those 593 ballots should be physically inspected by an independent authority before the ballots are destroyed.  In my December 4 letter, I requested the opportunity to inspect the ballots in question. The Chief Election Officer  informed me that “ballots are not available for public inspection.” On December 16, at a Regular Council meeting, some Councillors attempted to raise the topic of “over-votes” as just one example of concerns about the election, during discussion about the Chief Election Officer’s report to City Council. Supported by statements by the Chief Election Officer and the City Manager, the Mayor (acting as Chair) disallowed any discussion of these matters during the meeting. (Transcript of that meeting here – CityHallWatch.)
In conclusion, as the date of possible destruction is imminent, we are asking you to instruct the City not to destroy ballots but to preserve them until several matters of concern (including “over-votes”) can be publicly confirmed by an entity or body independent from the City of Vancouver.
We hope that you will acknowledge receipt of this correspondence, and that you will notify us if and when you have taken the necessary steps to instruct the City that it does not have permission to destroy the ballots.
Sincerely,
R. Helten
CityHallWatch Media Foundation
****************
(14-Jan-2015)

Next week in Council I have a couple of motions coming forward. Apropos to a story in today’s The Province (Vancouver, B.C.), I am asking for staff to report back on processes and procedures in the last election. There have been many media reports on long lineups, confusion at polling stations, technical issues, and now, as reported in the Province, thousands of uncounted ballots.

Residents of Vancouver can sign up to speak to my motion and provide input into their experience at the polls last November. Contact the city clerk’s office to register to speak.

Here is the full wording of my motion on notice:

MOTION: Review of the 2014 City of Vancouver Civic Election

MOVER: Councillor Affleck
SECONDER: Councillor Ball

WHEREAS

1. Voter turnout increased by 8.8 points in the 2014 Vancouver election;

2. This is the first time that the City of Vancouver has allowed voters to vote at any polling station in the city;

3. There were several media reports of confusion and irregularities at polling stations, including but not limited to: insufficient ballots, inconsistent identification checking and other technical issues;

4. There were media reports of eligible voters, including seniors and persons with disabilities, being discouraged by long waits;

5. There were reports of inconsistent information on the role of Elections BC in the civic election process.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council to:

(a) Present any official list of public enquiries submitted to the City of Vancouver regarding the 2014 civic election; and

(b) Clarify processes and procedures during the 2014 City of Vancouver Civic Election and the role of Elections BC.
http://www.theprovince.com/…/Vancouver+…/10726461/story.html

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