As an update to the request for an election recount with regard to the 2018 Cochrane, Ontario  municipal election, I wish to advise that I have decided to withdraw my application seeking the court’s direction for this.

Background: The election saw a difference of five votes with over about 2,100 cast. Our understanding is that the tabulators (voting machines) actually crashed/froze several times during the election requiring the machines and even memory cards to be swapped out with back-ups.  There were also anomalies with the ballot forms being changed for this election that the tabulators seemed to reject more frequently than usual.  The tabulators are second hand machines purchased from the City of Timmins over a decade and a half ago, that were out dated back then.  Additionally, tabulators in general count most votes but not all votes.  There is a growing appreciation (supported by case law) that when elections are within as certain margin of error, the only way to gain certainty is through a manual recount.  For perspective, Elections Ontario (provincial elections) have now made a manual recount mandatory if a recount is to take place.

When I first set out to request a manual recount, it was to seek responsible closure not only for myself and the half of the community that supported my re-election, but for Mr. Clement and the other half of the community seeking validation as well.  The only way to responsibly obtain certainty would be to do an actual manual recount (physically count ballots by hand), as would be done if this were a provincial election.

If a manual recount is requested as a result of doubt created by the process or equipment the law requires an application to the court, and all considered, I believe our application had a high likelihood of being successful.  My initial feeling was that this was a positive direction that Mr. Clement and the Town would openly support as a manual recount in Cochrane would take a few hours in an afternoon during regular staff hours (virtually cost nothing), while providing absolute certainty for everyone involved.  It would allow the Town to prove their process and equipment are in fact credible.  But more importantly it would remove any doubt the public may have in their election results, which is the foundation of the whole democratic institution our entire society is built upon.

The Town had an opportunity to simply say that they don’t believe the tabulators were inaccurate, that they have 100% faith in their process and wouldn’t object to a manual recount if the court decided it was necessary.  Instead, they objected and filed a costly defence that required a long drawn out and expensive court affair, that as it sits right now, will see the first opportunity to get to the actual trial likely be in the Fall sometime (a full year after the actual election).

Update:  After arguing back and forth on the merits of the need for a manual recount, as part of the legal process requiring an attempt at settlement, the Town offered to settle.  They offered to do a recount using their tabulators, run by the Town itself (the very equipment and process being questioned in the application); they would run every ballot through and if they were rejected repeatedly, they would re-write the ballot until it was accepted; but qualified by, there would be no arguing validity of the ballots (so the Town would have final say);  if the results showed Mr. Clement won, then the application would be over.  But if it showed I won, then we must go back to court and spend more time and money continuing to argue and delay.  It’s important to appreciate that this offer would actually take more time and money then just doing a manual recount, and could still leave some doubt.

Recognizing how this was dragging out, costing more public money and doing no one any good, I counter offered to accept the use of tabulators (versus manual) under the premise that all ballots would be put through and the court would have final say on ballot validity; we would use neutral tabulators, operated by a neutral third party; and that the results would be binding no matter who won.  In other words, we would all accept the outcome either way.  The Town and Council rejected the offer and continued to reject doing a manual count.

A combination of the Town deciding to fight the application, forcing a long drawn out court affair and offers going back and forth that only avoided the whole point of the application in the first place (responsible closure for everyone that put the integrity of the election above all other interests), it became painfully clear that the responsible thing to do now would be to withdraw the application. It doesn’t make much sense to wait at least a year (or more) to only displace the current Mayor, or ask myself to quit everything I’m now doing and reassume the Mayor’s seat.  So, while I’m extremely confident that our application would succeed in the end, I realize the implementation of the potential result is just no longer practical.

As I said up front, my only intention with the application was the due diligence of seeking responsible closure for everyone, including the Mayor elect.  My hope was it would be done before the swearing in process and we could all go forward confident in the validity of the results.  I’m disappointed and disheartened that the choice was to put the reputations of the Town and the equipment ahead of the integrity of the election and the public’s confidence in it.  As a public citizen, I’m concerned that the public’s own money was used to deny the public themselves the certainty and confidence in their electoral process that they deserve.  But just as important, I find it curious that those administering the public’s electoral process don’t see the need to actually demonstrate to the public whom they work for, that the process they are administering on our behalf in fact meets the highest of standards and credibility – a manual recount costing little to nothing would have done this.

At the same time, I accept that this is something for the public to decide how they wish to seek accountability at this point.  As it stands, there is a new Mayor and council in place and as I’ve repeatedly stated, I’m only too happy to help if asked and I wish them the best of luck going forward. 

My hope is the Council will see the merit, that many others have, of actually creating a recount policy that provides for the fact that tabulators will not count every vote and if the margin of error is close enough, an actual manual recount is required, if the confidence in and the integrity of the election itself is of value.  Just as other municipalities like French River have, and the province has for provincial elections. 

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