Problem at the polls: Edmonton voters given incorrect ballots for school board trustee

Click to play video: 'Complaint filed after Edmonton school board trustee ballot mistake' Complaint filed after Edmonton school board trustee ballot mistake
Some Edmonton voters say there's been a mix-up when it comes to ballots for the public school board trustee election. Sarah Ryan explains. – Oct 7, 2021

An official complaint has been filed with Edmonton Elections after voters were given ballots for the wrong public school board wards.

Trisha Estabrooks, chair of the Edmonton Public School Board and trustee candidate in Ward D, said her agent filed the complaint Wednesday.

“I’m extremely concerned,” Estabrooks said.

READ MORE: Edmonton election 2021: How to vote and what to expect on the ballot

She explained she’s fielded more than a handful of calls and emails from supporters saying that when they went to vote in advance polls, they were given an incorrect ballot for Edmonton Public School Board trustee.

Other trustee candidates, including Jan Sawyer, Rebecca Graff-McRae and Julie Kusiek, were also contacted by supporters who said they received the wrong ballots.

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Irv McGinnis called Ward F candidate Julie Kusiek after noticing she wasn’t on the ballot he was given when he went to vote Wednesday.

Irv and his wife, Ellie McGinnis, are both in their 80s and Irv said they intended to vote for Kusiek but left their ballots blank when her name didn’t appear.

Irv said he wasn’t sure what was going on, and assumed there was mistake with his ballot alone.

But when he spoke to Ellie afterwards, she said her ballot was incorrect too.

Irv said the error caused him to lose sleep, so he decided to call Kusiek and alert her to the problem.

On Tuesday night, Ward I candidate Jan Sawyer got her first call about voters having problems. She said a couple went to vote and got the wrong ballot, and told her they tried to rectify it.

“They went to the returning officer there who entered their address into the iPad, it still showed the wrong ward. They actually then got on the phone. They insisted they phone the elections office and it was then the issue was corrected.”

She immediately emailed Edmonton Elections and followed up with a call Wednesday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, she said she had not received a response.

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“I don’t feel like the elections office is taking that seriously, and that’s really disturbing to me.”

On Wednesday night, Sawyer was contacted by another family of supporters, who said they too were given the wrong ballots. They tried to get it corrected with elections staff, but said they were turned away.

“The people there insisted it was the correct one. So they weren’t given an opportunity to vote for the people they wanted to vote for.”

That, Sawyer said, is upsetting.

“Frustrated because I tried to do something about it earlier and nothing has been done. Frustrated because I can’t be assured that the election results are going to be valid. Frustrated, most importantly, because in a democracy, every vote counts.”

On Wednesday night, Edmonton Elections acknowledged the problem in a statement to Global News.

“Edmonton Elections has received concerns from a handful of voters regarding the public school board trustee ballot they received,” it read.

“We can confirm the following: Voters received the incorrect public school board ballot and were able to resolve the issue prior to voting. In very few cases, voters indicated they received and cast the incorrect ballot.”

Read more: Edmonton Election 2021: Casting votes for school board trustees

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In an update Thursday afternoon, Edmonton Elections said it’s believed the issued is tied to elections workers not refreshing the “where to vote” tool in between voters. New processes were implemented Thursday to ensure the correct ballots are given to voters, including an enhanced, user-friendly “where to vote” tool.

Aileen Giesbrecht, returning officer and city clerk with the City of Edmonton, said they have reinforced with staff the validation process required when providing a ballot to a voter. In addition, a second election worker must now check that the correct ballot has been given to the voter.

Giesbrecht said of the approximately 19,000 people who have voted in advance polls so far, they have received about 40 complaints about the issue. She said Edmonton Elections is reaching out to each of those people to hear their concerns.

“Right now this is a very, very small number of people that may have been impacted.”

However, Giesbrecht said once the voter has cast their ballot, the voting process is complete.

“I am not able or permitted to reconnect the voter registration form that is signed by the voter and the ballot that they then cast. I have no way of putting those two things together again. The entire voting process is secret,” Giesbrecht said.

“I’m confident that we’re putting the steps in place to make sure that the ballots that are given to the voters are correct. We have increased our staff. We are increasing our checking and we put a new process in place today that includes a double verification process. We do take this very seriously.”

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Edmonton Elections encourages voters and staff to take their time at the voting station.

Global News spoke to a number of voters who experienced the problem firsthand, and were frustrated by the experience.

Michelle McLean was among the first to vote when advance polls opened Monday afternoon.

McLean lives in the riding of Metis, but council wards and school board wards have entirely different boundaries.

She did her research in advance, and knew who she wanted to vote for in each race.

“I had looked up candidates for the Edmonton Public School Board, for Ward G. Because that was the ward when I looked on the map on the Edmonton Election website — that was the ward I was in based on the neighbourhood that I live in.”

Read more: Edmonton election 2021 sees spike in advance voting so far

But when she got inside her polling station, something was wrong.

“I got a form that had Ward D candidates on it. And I was like, ‘I don’t know any of these candidates.’ I don’t look at any of their platforms.”

McLean said she’d been waiting in line for a while to vote, and wasn’t sure if she should bring it up with an election worker or not.

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After a few minutes, she decided to speak up.

“They input my address into a tablet and that seemed to be coming up with the wrong ward. But she tried it a couple more times and then eventually it came up with the right ward, so they were able to switch everything around for me and I got the right voting form.”

Click to play video: 'How Edmonton elects school board trustees' How Edmonton elects school board trustees
How Edmonton elects school board trustees – Sep 29, 2021

In the end, McLean was able to vote for the candidate she wanted to, in the correct ward. But she contacted Global News because she was worried about other voters.

“What if this happens to other people? Other people might not be able to advocate as much to be able to get their form changed, because it was a complicated process.”

She also feels public school board trustees have a key role to play.

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“Education is important. It’s the next generation, the future. So having people who have an understanding and experience with what we need in education is really important to me.”

A senior who lives in Grovenor said she took a lot of time researching who she wanted to vote for, feeling that especially this election, the position of school board trustee is critical.

But when she went to her advance polls, Anne — who asked that Global News not use her last name — said she didn’t recognize any of the names on the ballot.

Instead of getting a Ward C ballot, Anne said was given one with candidates running in Ward D.

Anne said she was confused, and didn’t know what to do. She said the candidate she planned to vote for wasn’t an option on her ballot, and she didn’t know anything about the candidates running in the other ward.

She ended up picking a name at random — but then went home and called Edmonton Elections to report the problem.

Anne said she wants to be allowed to re-vote for the candidate in her actual ward.

“I want it fixed,” she said.

Jakkapan Karnjanavijaya lives in another neighbourhood, but experienced the same problem.

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“I saw that I was given two public school board candidates that weren’t in my ward,” he explained. “I had researched at home before coming here, found a candidate that I thought would do a really great job. Instead, what I was left with was two candidates that I’d never seen before or done any research on.”

Karnjanavijaya said it was worthwhile to speak up and get the election staff to give him the correct ballot, even though it wasn’t easy.

“It’s important to me to make an informed choice. Otherwise it would have been a blind choice. Once you’re in there you can’t even pull out your phone to look up the candidates you’re given.”

Read more: Edmonton election 2021: Candidates running for mayor and council



The Edmonton Public School Board said it knows the integrity of the vote is a top priority for Edmonton Elections.

“We understand that the returning officer and her team are looking into all questions related to the public school ballots and taking all steps necessary to ensure proper protocols are followed,” wrote Carrie Rosa, communications director with the EPSB.

After three days of advance voting, more than 19,000 Edmontonians had already cast ballots.

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The turnout is on track to shatter the 2017 numbers, when 26,198 people voted in advance polls over the full 10-day window.

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.

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