ELECTION 2015: Confusion reigns during advance polling in Columbia Valley

Mass confusion on where to cast a vote during advance polling days in the Columbia Valley left voters frustrated.

An example of an incorrect voting card (on the left) directing an Invermere resident to the Radium polling station 603

An example of an incorrect voting card (on the left) directing an Invermere resident to the Radium polling station 603

Mass confusion on where to cast a vote during advance polling days held over the Thanksgiving long weekend left multiple Upper Columbia Valley voters frustrated, disillusioned and even led to some giving up on voting in the federal election day altogether.

Alan Kirton has lived and voted in Invermere for more than 20 years, and thought nothing was amiss when he walked into the Invermere Community Hall on Friday, October 9th to cast his advance vote at polling station 603 — located at the Invermere Community Hall as indicated on his voter information card. However, at the hall he was told he was actually at polling station 604 and that he would have to go to polling station 603 at the Radium Seniors’ Hall to vote.

“So I said ‘I’ve been refused the right to vote,’ and they said, ‘No, you haven’t, you just have to go to Radium to do it.’ But I’m not going to go to Radium. They (Elections Canada) can bring the information here, otherwise I’m not going to vote,” said Kirton.

Kirton says that when he called the office of Nelson-based Kootenay-Columbia returning officer Rob Switzer, “the woman I spoke to admitted it was a huge mess, and (said the problem) was right across Canada.”

Invermere resident Stan Markham corroborated Kirton’s account, saying that while attempting to cast an advance ballot, he talked to a number of Invermere residents who were showing up at the community hall as per their voter information cards, and then being told to go to Radium. He had also talked to a number of Radium residents who had gone to the Radium Seniors’ Hall to vote — as per their voter information cards — and were then sent to Invermere.

Markham added some of the people he talked to had received updated voter information cards in the mail the morning of Friday, October 9th and had no trouble voting with their corrected cards.

“I would say close to half the people I talked with were being sent to Radium,” he said, adding he came across one married couple living at the same address whose voter information cards sent one to the Radium polling station and the other had a card with the Invermere station.

“One older couple was clearly disgusted and said they were not going to Radium and were not going to vote,” said Markham. “A lot of people were annoyed, but nobody really got out of hand. It’s pretty unbelievable. I can’t even come up with word a to describe it.”

Markham was dealing with a different voter registration issue on October 9th — which is why he spent so long in the community hall — that left him ultimately unable to vote. He never received a voter information card in the mail so on Tuesday, October 6th he tried to sort the matter out online and then on the phone with Elections Canada. Neither options worked so he took his identification with him to register at the advance poll in Invermere and waited an hour and a half for a voter address map or book to arrive from Golden.

It never came. “In the end I couldn’t vote today (October 9th), because they didn’t know if I was supposed to vote in Invermere or Radium,” he said.“I do have an odd address (he lives in a neighbourhood on Upper Lakeview Road where each house has a number but there are no street names) and have had trouble from utility companies with that. Supposedly, it won’t be an issue on the actual election day (Monday, October 19th), but I plan to sort it out well before then.”

Invermere resident Susan Claus was able to cast her advance vote on October 9th, but not without considerably more hassle than usual. Claus and her husband both did not get a voter information card, although their daughter got two. Their daughter’s card directed her to Radium, so Claus went there, where she was directed back to Invermere. In Invermere, she was told she was not on the voters list.

Claus was mystified as to why she was not on the list since she’s been living and voting in Invermere for 30 years. “I finally got registered in Invermere, and then voted, but the whole thing took an hour and a half,” she said. “I didn’t have a card, so I brought my passport and identification. I knew there might be some problem but I didn’t think it would be this much of a problem.”

She shared Markham’s scepticism of Elections Canada’s assurance that everything will be sorted out and running smoothly come October 19th.

“Election day is going to be insane. People will be lining up for hours and hours, trying to get registered or figure out where to vote,” she said.

There were warning signs of the confusion to come well before October 9th. Invermere resident Mike Bradford contacted The Echo after getting his voter identification card and finding it directed him to Radium rather than Invermere, where he’s always done his advance voting. Bradford pointed out there could well be people unable to make the trip. “Some people may not have a vehicle, (and may) have to pay for a taxi,” he said. “It should be fair and equitable for everybody.”

The Echo called Switzer, but he declined to comment on the matter and referred all inquires to Vancouver-based Elections Canada media contact Dorothy Sitek.

When The Echo contacted Sitek on Thursday, October 8th  about Bradford’s case, she said that with more than 26 million registered voters across Canada, it would be impossible for her to speak to specific cases, but she did say that Bradford’s situation was not an isolated incident and that similar situations are happening all over the country.

“This is not unusual. This is expected, this is an adjustment period,” she said. “It is partly due to the fact that there are fewer advanced polling stations.”

In addition, Sitek said that people unable to drive to (or otherwise access) their polling station can request a special ballot kit, which allows them to vote from the comfort of their own home. All such ballots must be received back by Elections Canada on or before October 19th, and voters can order them online (go to Elections Canada’s website and click on the “Ways to Vote” link) or through their local riding’s returning officer.

“When you vote by special ballot, it will be a blank ballot, so you simply need to write your preferred candidate’s name on it and then send it back,” said Sitek.

The Echo attempted to contact Sitek again on October 9th as voter complaints poured in, but did not hear back from her prior to press deadline. Kootenay-Columbia returning officer Rob Switzer can be reached at 1-866-545-0621, or Cranbrook-based assistant returning officer Bill Cleland can be reached at 1-866-754-5448.



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