IRISHTOWN-SUMMERSIDE The polling clerk who worked the municipal election in Irishtown-Summerside earlier this week says the voting was done fair and square, just as it has been for every other election she has worked in the past 25 years or so.
Geraldine Wheeler worked the election alongside her sister Rita Blanchard, the town clerk who was the returning officer for Tuesday’s voting.
Concern was expressed in Thursday’s edition of The Western Star by Lloyd Burton, who narrowly lost his mayoral bid to Tony Blanchard, who happens to be Rita Blanchard’s husband.
Both women have conducted elections since the late 1980s. Wheeler began as the returning officer for the last election held in Summerside, where she was town clerk before the neighbouring municipalities amalgamated in the early 1990s.
Wheeler said this year’s vote was close, but there was no way that she or her sister could have influenced the outcome in favour of Tony Blanchard.
“We made sure the first voter knew the ballot box was empty and we were in plain view of everyone all day long,” said Wheeler.
Burton had a scrutineer present throughout the entire 12 hours of voting and both he and his agent were present during the counting process, which involves the returning officer calling out the result of each and every ballot.
Everyone present for the counting had a plain view of each ballot as it was counted. The box was turned upside down and shaken after the last ballot was counted to prove there were none left inside.
The result saw Blanchard win with 235 votes over Burton’s 220 votes.
“Lloyd’s agent counted out the same amount of votes for Lloyd as I did,” said Wheeler.
She acknowledged that Burton was actually leading for most of the counting, leading by more than 30 votes at one point, but Blanchard pulled ahead towards the end of the counting.
What bothers Wheeler is that the concerns raised over a relative of a candidate being responsible for counting votes has come up in the town before, but no one has ever put their name behind those concerns.
“We went to a public meeting a couple of years ago and we asked (council) where the concerns were coming from,” said Wheeler. “They couldn’t answer that.”
In smaller communities, noted Wheeler, it can sometimes be hard to find someone to conduct the election who is not related to one of the several candidates running.
The province’s Municipal Elections Act, in fact, does not prevent a relative from serving as a returning officer or a polling clerk.
“We have always done the elections and there has never been any reason for concern,” said Wheeler. “In the last election (in 2009), Rita’s husband ran (for mayor) and lost to Ralph Loder and Lloyd Burton ran and was elected (as a councillor) and there was no problem.”
Further, Wheeler said Burton could have done something about this situation before the election as a councillor.
“If he had concerns like that, he — as deputy mayor — could have addressed it in a council meeting and asked that a different poll clerk be assigned to do the election,” said Wheeler. “If residents had the same concern, they could have addressed that concern to the council body. It's no good to wait until after the fact to address a concern.”