By Tina Comeau
A judge will render a written decision on whether the municipal election in District 5 in the Municipality of Argyle should be voided.
A hearing was held in Supreme Court in Yarmouth on Jan. 24. While the sides had hoped for a decision at the hearing’s conclusion, Justice Pierre Muise said the Municipal Elections Act requires that a decision be handed down in writing rather than an oral decision.
The results of the election were very close, with challenger Nicole Albright defeating incumbent Malcolm Madden 302 votes to 300 votes. But Madden’s lawyer, Hugh Robichaud, suggested the result could have been even closer had a couple living in District 5 been given the opportunity to vote on this ballot. Instead, he says the couple was incorrectly told that they lived in District 1, and so that is where they voted. If their votes had been cast for Madden, he said, it would have resulted in a dead heat in the election.
The husband and wife actually had received PIN numbers for the municipality’s electronic vote that indicated they were to vote in District 5. At the polling station at Ecole Par-en-Bas they sought clarification to confirm if this was indeed the district they were supposed to vote in. After a telephone call made to a third party they were told by the workers at the poll that no, they lived in District 1 and that is where they were to vote. The problem, says Robichaud, is that information was wrong.
According to the municipality’s website, District 5 includes Ste.-Anne du Ruisseau, Springhaven, Eel Brook, Belleville, Bellneck, and Quinan. District 1 covers Tusket, Hubbard's Point, Abram's River, Gavelton, Pleasant Lake, Little Egypt, East Kemptville. The couple lives on a section of a dirt road that extends 1,400 feet due east from the Gavel Road, said Robichaud.
Justice Muise questioned the lawyer on the issue of the clarification that the couple sought, suggesting they themselves originally seemed to question if they should have been voting in District 5. Robichaud, however, said the two voters are not to be blamed for the eventual mistake that was made.
He called it a case of voter irregularity, and said because of the information they were given at the polling station, the couple voted in a race where the councillor does not represent them in their district.
“They weren’t allowed their democratic right to vote in the geographic area where they resided,” he said.
The Municipality of Argyle is not contesting the application to have the election voided, but it is not consenting to it either. While it will adhere to whatever the court decides, the municipality feels that it is important that it be the court to make the decision on the matter.
Although she does have a lawyer representing her, Albright has simply been an observer to the proceeding.
If Madden is successful in his application to have the election result overturned, there has been an agreement struck that would see the municipality pay $1,250 in court costs to him.
Based on the discussion held at the conclusion of the hearing, it seemed likely that the written decision on the election will be available this week. No follow-up court date was selected for the decision to be read into the record. Instead all sides will receive a copy of the decision and then it will be made available to the public.