Monday, October 15, 2007

Ontario Election Behind the Scenes

Last week was the first time I had ever scrutineered an election. I was working for Conservative candidate Bernie Tanz who was looking to unseed long time MPP Michael Colle in Eglinton-Lawerence. Colle had been forced to resign from cabinet earlier this year for giving out millions of dollars without proper accounting procedures.

I went at lunch time to the polling station to vote and register at the 5 polls that I would be monitoring. They could not figure out if I needed to keep the registration authorization certificate from the candidate. At each poll they changed their answer and I would have collect or return the forms to/from the polls I had already been to. It gave me an opportunity to get to know all of the DRO (District Returning Officer) making the job easier later on.

At 6:00 I returned to the polling station. I spent the evening going from poll to poll matching up our known supporters with who voters on the master voting list. I would report the no shows to HQ and they would make sure they didn't forget to vote. I then started the process over again. The polling hours had been extended by an hour to 9:00 in the hopes it would boost voter turnout. While we did get a trickle voters coming in until 8:40 I don't think it made a huge difference to the overall turnout.

As poll closing time was approaching I was worried how I was going to be in 5 places at once. The Liberals had sent two scrutineers to make their job easier. I had nothing to worry about. Each poll had a different technique for counting their ballots. Some worked better than others. This combined with the fact the referendum ballots were slowing down the count made monitoring easier. There were no scrutineers for the referendum and quite a number of blank referendum ballots. There was one ballot where the person voted for both electoral systems. There were not very many spoiled candidate ballots. One person had trouble deciding and voted for every candidate. This was not the same person with the spoiled referendum ballot because they were from different polls. There was one poll that was having a ton of problems because they were unable to locate (1) missing ballot. After about an hour the count was finished and I called in my results and returned to HQ.

Getting the vote results was quite interesting. Eglinton-Lawerence has two distinct districts. The west side of Marlee tends to be Italians that tend to support their local Italian member of parliament and the east side of Marlee there is a large Jewish population. Our scrutineers on the west side ran into problems with the scrutineers. In one case we were turned away because they were carrying blue binders. We were really excited when we found out that we won that polling station.

We were getting lots of votes along the Bathurst corridor which is where support for the faith based funding issue was expected to be highest. The biggest problem was Elections Ontario website was not working and the news was reporting we were down by about 1000 votes. Our reporting indicated that we were down at one point by only 50 votes and we had counted 5 times as many ballots. We did not have scrutineers at every polling station so we were having a hard time reconciling the discrepancy. Around midnight Bernie conceded defeat and went to Colle campaign office to offer congratulations. Colle went from winning by 12,000 votes in 2003 to winning by only 2,000 this time around.

I have run into many people who said that it does not matter if they vote. Their vote will not change the outcome of an election and nobody knows how or if they voted. This is simply not true. Each party collects information on who voted. They can also break down individual polls to determine if policies actually transform into votes. Every vote really does count.

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