An appeal of Splatsin First Nation’s election results from earlier this year has been dismissed.
The Jan. 10 election saw former Tkwamipla7 (councillor) Doug Thomas elected Kukpi7 (Chief) of Splatsin by a margin of five votes. Thomas received 89 total votes compared to former Chief Wayne Christian’s 84 votes. Five councillor positions were also decided by the election.
Councillor candidate Trina Antoine submitted an appeal of the election results to the Splatsin Complaints and Appeal Board on Feb. 9.
The basis for the appeal was the counting of 13 votes via telephone, with Antoine arguing that the electoral officer did not have the authority to admit the votes outside of Splatsin polling stations, without the scrutiny of members.
The electoral officer said unusual circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic led him to allow the 13 votes to be counted remotely. He denied that he committed a violation of the Splatsin Custom Election Code in a way that invalidated the election results.
The appellant alleged that on election night, 13 mail-in ballots were read out over the phone by a security guard from another location, and that the 13 votes were wrongfully counted.
The electoral officer doesn’t deny the counting of ballots over the phone, but said it was done according to instructions given to him by a deputy electoral officer.
The 13 mail-in ballots included six votes for Theresa William and two votes for the appellant.
According to the official election results, there were 223 total votes cast including one rejected chief vote and three rejected councillor votes.
Among the candidates elected to councillor positions, Loretta Eustache received 137 votes, Sabrina Vergata received 111 votes, Leonard Edwards received 110 votes, Beverly Thomas had 103 votes and Theresa William received 92 votes.
With 88 votes, Antoine missed out on a councillor position by just four votes — a difference that would have been erased had the 13 mail-in votes been rejected.
“The appellant specifically challenges the election result in relation to Theresa William,” the decision reads. “But for the 13 ballots, the appellant and Ms. William would have been tied for the fifth council seat.”
The crux of Antoine’s argument was that in permitting the counting of votes by telephone, the electoral officer “created an electoral custom where no custom existed.” She asked the board to toss the election results and order a re-vote by secret ballot.
Responding to questions posed by the board, the electoral officer said a similar situation had never occurred in a Splatsin election before.
The officer said the situation was the result of a lack of advanced polls and weakened efficiency of Canada Post due to the pandemic. He said that before his telephone call to the deputy electoral officer, there were no objections, and no candidates requested to to see the 13 ballots at the time of the count or afterwards.
Council candidates Laureen Felix and Loretta Eustache and sitting chief Christian supported the appeal. Christian supported the appeal based on privacy concerns, ethical breaches and cultural violations, stating he had never seen phone-in votes as part of a Splatsin election in his 26 years as chief and two years as councillor.
The board ultimately concluded that the ad hoc procedure used by the electoral officer was mired in “administrative errors,” but that those errors should not trump the mail-in voters’ right to have their votes counted.
“Their democratic franchise as members of the (Splatsin First Nation) should not be defeated by an administrative error caused by the EO’s lapse in judgment,” the decision states.