Merritt City Council will see five new faces pull up a seat at the table starting November 1, when the new council made up of Dana Egan, Paul Petroczi, Wendy Charney, incumbent Adam Etchart, Manuel Olguin, and Claire Newman is sworn in. While two incumbents, Councillors Adam Etchart and Melvina White, ran for reelection, only Etchart made the cut. 

A crowded field of 18 candidates for the six seats on Merritt City Council caused some tight races in this municipal election, with Claire Newman nabbing the last seat by just 89 votes, and leaving only a four vote difference between second and third place. A total of 2,391 votes were cast during this election, representing an estimated 43 percent voter turnout. This is down from the 2018 municipal election, which saw a 47 percent turnout. Elections staff say despite the average turnout, those counting were kept busy and worked to serve voters all day and well into the night.

“I’m incredibly proud of the team that we had in city hall doing the counting,” said Greg Lowis, chief election officer for the City of Merritt.

“This entire counting process was done in full compliance, and following strict instructions, of division 14 of the Local Government Act. This emphasizes when and where counting needs to be done, who may be present, how the counting needs to happen, how ballot boxes get opened and combined, and procedures.”

After the closing of polls at 8PM, ballot boxes were brought to the Council Chambers in City Hall, where candidates, scrutineers, and members of the media were invited to watch the hand counting of ballots. Due to the high number of ballots cast and a limited counting crew, results were released in a staggered manner. Mayoral results were announced at approximately 11:30, while Trustee results came roughly an hour later. Results for council were not announced until 3:45AM. 

Three elected council candidates attended the announcement of council results. Marius Auer/Herald

While the City used vote counting machines during its last municipal election, ballots were hand counted by election workers this time around. Many locals have questioned the change back to hand counting, which Lowis said took place mainly due to a disconnect between previous election staff and this year’s team. He added that while he apologizes for the confusion and not clarifying community expectations more, the process was fully transparent and followed strict protocols.

“I have now discovered that it was relatively unusual to have a B.C. municipal election as a hand count, but this was done in full and very strict compliance with the Local Government Act. We had candidates and scrutineers watching every step of the process,” said Lowis.

“Although the process definitely wasn’t as fast as I think some people expected it to be, it was undoubtedly transparent and accountable, and I think that the candidates are all very confident with the result that came out of it , which is the most important thing in an election.” 

John Chenoweth, Justin Jepsen, and Gordon Swan were elected to a four year term on School District 58’s Board of Education. A fourth candidate, Robert Leech, came short of being elected. Mike Goetz beat out incumbent Mayor Linda Brown, and two former City Councillors, for the top spot at City Hall.

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