Challenge to Lambton Shores election dismissed
A Superior Court justice in Sarnia has dismissed a challenge that accused the Municipality of Lambton Shores of making serious errors in its handling of the 2018 municipal election.
But there will likely be an appeal, said Eric Gillespie, the lawyer representing two Lambton Shores voters and four unsuccessful candidates in the municipal election.
All of these residents have alleged the municipality contravened the Municipal Elections Act by removing 1,131 names from the preliminary voters’ list, failing to give required notice to voters, breaching voter secrecy, and other issues.
Gillespie, representing mayoral candidate Doug Bonesteel, deputy mayoral candidate John Russell, council candidates Jordy Speake and James Finlay, and voters Gayle MacGregor and Scott MacGregor, has argued the election results should be annulled and a new vote held.
Justice Thomas Carey, in his Oct. 2 decision, said he found no evidence of irregularities – “serious administrative errors that are capable of undermining the electoral process” – only evidence of “voluntary disenfranchisement contained in the affidavits of those who chose not to vote” rather than make use of electronic voting.
Lambton Shores was one of seven Sarnia-Lambton municipalities to use internet and telephone voting and do away with paper ballots in the 2018 municipal election.
A pre-election challenge to the municipality’s voting bylaw filed by Gillespie on behalf of a different group of voters was dismissed by Justice John Desotti in late September 2018.
Carey, in his decision, said this case’s applicants – arguments were heard May 31 – appeared to be trying to relitigate the Desotti decision.
“While there was some evidence that people were uncomfortable with the new system and did not trust it, I found no evidence of irregularities that led to any disenfranchisement of eligible voters or enfranchisement of ineligible voters,” Carey said in dismissing the application.
“There was nothing in the material before the court that would lead me to discount even one vote, let alone enough votes that would reach the magic number of being larger than any of the pluralities in the races that were contested in this election.”
Gillespie argued the 1,131 people removed from the preliminary voters’ list, had they all voted, could have changed the outcome in any of the municipal races. If a person isn’t given notice they’ve been removed from the list, they’re not easily able to get back on, he added.
The municipality hasn’t explained why those names were removed, he said.
Carey, in his decision, says he wasn’t given evidence how many names were deleted from the list or any reasons why, but said the onus is on the applicants to show eligible voters were not permitted to vote.
“Not only was there no such evidence but two of the affiants … both indicated the simple process that they went through to have their names restored to the list and that they were allowed subsequently to vote,” he wrote.
Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber said he’s pleased with the decision.
“It’s unfortunate it took so much time and cost a lot of money and staff time,” he said, estimating municipal costs at more than $25,000.
Council’s business wasn’t affected by the court challenge, he said.
“But it was kind of hanging over everyone’s head as to ‘what if?’” he said. “We were confident that our staff did things right.”
He’s been asked multiple times weekly since May about when a decision was coming, he said.
“So pleased this came out and the court exonerated the municipality of any wrongdoing.”