The case of alleged voter irregularities in the Saint John Harbour riding was back in court for a brief pre-trial conference on Tuesday as the application continues to drag its way through the courts.
This is the ninth pre-trial conference since the matter first came before the courts eight months ago, and dealt primarily with scheduling as the hearing is set to finally get underway on Monday.
The case began after a recount upheld a tight ten vote win for Liberal candidate Gerry Lowe in New Brunswick’s provincial election last fall. The result was quickly contested by PC candidate Barry Ogden, who made an application to have the result thrown out due to alleged voter irregularities.
Dozens of irregularities were documented in an affidavit from municipal returning officer Patti Nason, who combed through 8,000 documents related to the riding.
The irregularities range from issues with procedure, such as electors failing to be struck off or forms not being signed or filled out properly by elections staff, all the way to the more serious. Nason found that some voters may have possibly cast a ballot in the wrong riding and it’s possible that one person might have voted twice.
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It’s not clear if any of these irregularities have affected the end result, but both Lowe and Ogden have expressed their concern over the state of the province’s democratic institutions.
“I think they’re made in every riding throughout the province,” said Lowe. “I mean they bring these people in and train them for a short period of time and throw them into work, and they pay them $150 for the day and that’s it,” Lowe said back in February.
“What we heard today about how bad it is is just … it’s frightful to think that this is a democracy,” added PC Candidate Barry Ogden little more than a week later.
As the case has stretched long past the six month deadline set forth in the Elections Act it’s unclear what exactly will come out of the hearing.
Justice Hugh McLellan could decide to throw out the result, which would necessitate a by-election in the riding, but almost more importantly, the hearing would push Elections New Brunswick to think about how to prevent similar errors from occurring in future elections.