© Tina Comeau photo
Michael Alden Fells listens to a presenter during a previous Tri-County Regional School Board meeting. TINA COMEAU FILE PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
After challenging the results of a 2012 school board election in Supreme Court, Michael Alden Fells has now won his seat back on the Tri-County Regional School Board in a special election.
The unofficial results have Fells winning the African Nova Scotian seat on the school board during the Jan. 11 special election with 155 votes. Darlene Lawrence, who had won the seat in the 2012 vote, had 146 votes.
To help pay for his legal expenses, the court recently ruled that Fells can collect money from the municipal units in Yarmouth and Digby counties that conducted the 2012 school board vote electronically or by telephone – which is where the problems arose. Fells says the court awarded him $28,000. The amount is lower than what had been submitted by Fells and his lawyer. (Further details about the awarding of costs was not available from the Yarmouth Justice Centre at the time of this posting.)
In October 2012, Lawrence had won the seat with around 240 more votes than Fells. But the defeated incumbent candidate brought the matter to court, arguing that during the electronic and telephone voting that took place in many areas, people had voted for the seat when they were not eligible to do so.
Poll results showed more than three times the number of people had voted in the 2012 election than in previous elections. When the issue was explored by the law firm Fells had hired, more than 300 people said through a signed affidavit or verbally that they had voted for the seat in error because they were confused by the voting process.
Nearly a year after the election, in October 2013, Supreme Court Justice Pierre Muise ruled that the results of the 2012 election could not be relied upon and he declared the election to be void. The court challenge brought forward by Fells was not contested by any other parties.
In school board elections prior to 2012, people voting for the African Nova Scotian seat self-had declared themselves to be qualified to vote for the seat by asking for the ballot at the polling station. To be eligible to vote for the seat a person has to be African Nova Scotian or the parent or guardian of an African Nova Scotia student.
During the Jan. 11 special election, and at the advance polls this time around, voting was only carried out using paper ballots.
The school board says Fells will be sworn in at the Jan. 21 school board meeting.