The City of Merritt has released a report outlining an internal review of its election processes following public input and concern regarding the 2022 general election, including a legal proceeding by mayoral candidate Tony Luck. Luck’s acceptance of the newly minted report, which he said his team was mildly satisfied with, means his proceedings won’t progress any further. The City identified a number of instances where their election processes contravened the Local Government Act.
The Local Government Act, a piece of provincial legislation, sets out the parameters for municipal elections across B.C. Municipalities themselves administer the election process, and Director of Corporate Services Greg Lowis took on the role of Chief Election Officer in the City of Merritt. The election took place on October 15, with advanced voting opportunities prior to that date. Following the election, the City said a number of local residents took to social media and city hall to voice their concerns about the election process. Tony Luck filed his legal proceedings against the City on November 17, partially prompting the City’s CAO, Sean Smith, to draft the election review. Luck has now begun the process of withdrawing his challenge, which he said was only meant to bring attention to the issue.
“There were three different instances we found where there was non-compliance with the requirements for elections in the Local Government Act, and we take that really seriously,” said Smith, speaking to the media following Tuesday’s council meeting.
“We apologize to electors for those shortcomings, and acknowledge each one, and we’ve got to find a place to make sure that those are addressed for all future elections. We do specifically know that these didn’t have any material impacts on the results of the election.”
The first contravention found by Smith in his report was that the City did not appoint a Deputy Chief Election Officer until October 11th, 2022, which was well into advanced voting, and just four days before general election day. While there are no requirements in the LGA stating when a deputy official be appointed, City staff acknowledged that the intent of the section was not met. Smith said in his report the result of this was less collaboration in the election process, and left election officials with less time to complete their work.
The next shortcoming identified by Smith was a contravention to section 72(4) of the LGA, which requires election workers to record the type of identification they checked for each voter in the ballot book. This led to three instances where an elector received a ballot without providing sufficient documents or solemn declarations to prove their identity and address. While recording the nature of documents wouldn’t have solved this problem, it would have allowed a voter to be satisfied that these instances were the exception, and not the norm. Smith noted that while this oversight did not have an impact on the elections results, City staff believe it was a major error which greatly affected voters’ confidence in the election process.
Section 120(4) of the Local Government Act states that candidates must not be present in the voting place during voting proceedings, unless they are there to vote. Smith noted in his report that the final contravention of the LGA was when a number of candidates gathered in the polling place for the last 15 minutes of the election while waiting for the counting rooms to open. While the City official on site did tell candidates to wait the remaining time in the voting place, there was no evidence that the candidates interacted with voters or the ballot box in any way.
“Where we knew and we saw that there were some errors, it’s really good to own your own mistakes, so we wanted the opportunity to do that,” noted Smith.
“You can have an external person come in and do a review and tell you that you messed up, but when you know that you’ve made some errors, let’s just own it. I think that’s what people expect their government to do and that’s what we feel we’ve done with this report. The second thing is it does save on costs, and as we come into budget season, I think that’s something taxpayers expect.”
Smith added that while these contraventions reduce voter confidence, they did not have any material impacts on the election’s outcome, and that the election was conducted in good faith. The report also acknowledges that while Luck’s challenge did in part prompt the report, it was offered mainly in the interest of transparency. The report also identifies seven other opportunities for change and improvement in the election process, including serial numbers on ballots, machine versus hand counting, identification of election officials, ballot box and ballot concerns, and other issues relating to best practices.
To read the full report, view the agenda for the Tuesday, December 13 regular meeting of council. Agendas and minutes can be found online at www.merritt.ca.