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Procedural errors lead to unprecedented second run-off election in Nemaska

BY Dan Isaac May 10, 2019

Among the complaints about the election process is that as many as 20 voters faxed their ballots from Las Vegas.

UPDATE: after this article was published in the Nation, it was announced there would be no repeat run-off and the results of the initial run-off would stand. We will follow up this still developing story in a future issue.

A band council election in Nemaska will see an unprecedented repeat of the run-off vote for Chief and Deputy Chief after Returning Officer Tina Wapachee annulled the results of the April 23 election. Among the complaints about the election process is that as many as 20 voters faxed their ballots from Las Vegas.

Nemaska voters first went to the polls April 10, producing close to a three-way tie in the race for Chief, with each candidate receiving over 30% of the vote. The final result showed Clarence Jolly Sr. receiving 115 votes, Josie Jimiken 109, while Noreen Moar finished third with 102.

A run-off election for Chief between Jolly Sr. and Jimiken – and for the Deputy Chief position between Greg Allen Jolly and Teddy Wapachee – was called for April 23.

Another close race for both positions triggered two recounts after the second round of voting. The final results showed Jolly Sr. again edging out Jimiken 171 votes to 158, while Allen Jolly won the race for Deputy Chief by just 11 votes.

Jimiken appointed a scrutineer to oversee the recounts. After they were completed, the scrutineer highlighted several procedural errors throughout the election process – leading Jimiken to contest the run-off results.

Jimiken, a former two-term Nemaska Chief, characterized some of the procedural errors as honest mistakes, such as not ensuring faxed-in ballots were accompanied by photo I.D. – a rule outlined in Nemaska’s election regulations.

“The bulk of my grounds of contestation all referenced non-compliance with existing legislation,” Jimiken told the Nation.

However, another eyebrow-raising complaint from Jimiken questioned why a group of 18-to-20 voters were given un-marked ballots by the electoral office, and those ballots were taken with them on a trip to Las Vegas.

“Nowhere does it say that the electoral office can pass out ballots to an elector and that elector can transport those ballots out of the community, the province, and the country,” Jimiken said. “They took those ballots with them to Las Vegas, Nevada, and they handled them on behalf of the other electors on that trip. When it was time to vote, they voted from Vegas.”

Jimiken emphasizes that no one person is at fault for the irregularities, saying that the voting process as a whole needs to be overhauled.

“In my view, all of the responsibility does not rest entirely on the office of the returning officer,” said Jimiken. “Those who were in leadership before, we fell short. We have to own part of what is transpiring in our community.”

In the end, Returning Officer Wapachee decided to call a second run-off election before rendering a decision on Jimiken’s challenge of the first result.

“I have called another election in fairness to all electors and all candidates,” read a document signed by Wapachee and posted on Facebook. “The last run-off resulted in a high number of rejected faxed-in ballots which were not accompanied by photo I.D. There were also many requests for faxed-in ballots on the day of the [run-off]. It was my honest mistake informing the electors that they did not need to provide photo I.D. as long as they provided the voter’s declaration.”

Following the announcement, Jimiken informed the Nation that he would not comment on the second run-off election until a later date. Wapachee did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

Nemaska’s second run-off election will take place May 22, from 9 am to 7 pm at the Recreation Hall.

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Dan Isaac is a Mi'kmaq and Mohawk journalist with a BA in Creative writing from Concordia University. He’s been writing for the Nation since 2016.