Blog | December 20, 2011

Declines to rule on 2008 vote irregularities

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON—A Court of Queen's justice won't tell the province how to run elections in the wake of the 2008 provincial vote plagued by inaccurate voting lists, long waits to vote and people misdirected to polling stations.Justice Mel Binder, in his writ-ten ruling, declined to say whether those alleged irregularities and others brought to the court by former Liberal leader Kevin Taft added up to an infringement of the right to vote or impeded voters' full participation in the election.Binder did say the province has "the duty of taking reasonable steps" to ensure voters can exercise their right to vote.But because the province has already made significant changes in its election laws, there's no point ruling on past events, Binder wrote."In my view, it is highly speculative that the same problems encountered in the 2008 election will arise during the next election," he said, noting the government has now brought in fixed elections dates and made other changes recommended by the chief electoral officer after the 2008 vote.The next election will be held next spring.The same day the trial opened in late November, the Redford government introduced Bill 21 to set fixed election dates for spring months every four years.A year ago, the government also adopted the recommendation to allow the Chief Electoral Office to appoint returning officers, rather than the provincial cabinet, to eliminate the potential for political bias in the appointments."In my view, legislative changes since 2008 will likely alleviate future problems along the lines of those highlighted by Taft," Binder wrote.Taft launched the case with the hope the judge would make some recommendations on how to improve running Alberta elections, not overturn the results of the 2008 vote.He said he was disappointed the judge did not rule on the substantive issue - that is, whether the government infringed on people's right to vote given the problems in 2008, including an inaccurate voting list that left off 25 per cent of voters. The result was long lineups at the polling stations as citizens had to be sworn in.But Taft says he's not as confident the spring election will be free of problems.Already there are signs of trouble - about 300,000 people were missing from the new voters list put together after an enumeration conducted late in the summer, Taft noted.During the trial, Binder noted that there was evidence the provincial government "did not act reasonably" when it failed for a year to respond to repeated requests from the chief electoral officer to appoint returning officers to allow organizing and training to get underway well in advance.Taft said he was pleased the judge ruled that the government must take "reasonable steps" to make sure people can participate in elections

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton [email protected]

This article was published in the Edmonton Journal on December 20, 2011. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.