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Me and Elections Canada

Considering the trouble countries such as Haiti have in making the public will felt, we Canadians should be glad of the relative freedom we have. We can get the bastards out of office. We even have a chance at changing government policies and doctrines in the public's favor.

This is one reason why I like working as an elections official. It is one of the few opportunities for quality employment for somebody like me and the extra money always comes in handy. But it is also a great feeling of being part of something important.

Elections are hard to run. You have to create a substantial organization on the fly, with most people working there being unknown quantities and having limited experience. There are only three chances about every four years to do this, barring by-elections, and it is a fairly complicated procedure.

Especially with the federal elections, the procedures are more complicated than they need to be and lead to a lot of confusion and anxiety. I tell people that the main thing is to balance up at the end of the day. The ballots given out must equal ballots that come back, cast or refused or whatever. This must equal the people crossed off plus revision/registration certificates, etc.

It is the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) who does the ballot count and the poll clerk who records. I have spent a few evenings, after an exhausting and long day receiving ballots, counting them up and hoping I balance up. I always did.

They eventually started making me the supervising DRO. This means I am in charge of a polling station with sometimes half a dozen polls and DROs under me. This is the easiest and hardest job. Usually, you do not have too much to do. But everything that goes wrong is your fault. You are the chief shit catcher and you have to stay detached and unflustered. I have seen supervisors get too excited about things, overdo things, and end up going into melt down.

It helps if you have similarly cool headed, reasonably experienced people working over you. At the top of the pyramid in each riding is the returning officer. I worked for T'Hayla Ferguson for ten years in Toronto Center and she had really learned how to run things. That was over four general elections and two by-elections.

Spadina-Fort York

You have to work in the riding where you live. Boundary redistribution has put me in the new riding of Spadina-Fort York. This has been a less happy experience during the 2015 election. The returning officer was Carol Aude. She was some kind of political appointee, has no experience with elections, did not know what she was doing, and has some serious personality problems.

I no doubt seem pretty soured off about Carol. I have reasons. I got into one of these quit/was fired situations because of her, and over my unwillingness to enforce her flatly illegal rules.

I thought I was  going to  be working all four days of the advance poll and the election day, too. I  got fired on day three. They were talking about  giving me other work on e-day, but I thought that would also lead to further conflicts.

I  was not happy about   enforcing what amounts  to  another method of vote suppression.  I was running into a lot of  confusion and conflict  with  my staff and with  the  head office about exactly what  rights the  political party scrutineers  are supposed  to have. 

scrutineering

I  have been a scrutineer in a few elections too. That is the  poor  dumb shmoe from a political party  who  comes  in, not just to sit around and observe the vote, but to keep track of  who  has voted  so they can cross  their identified supporters off their lists. 

A long time ago, when I lived in Calgary, I worked as a scrutineer and saw these nursing home residents being bussed into the polling station, with people "helping" them to vote. When I tried to see if these people were being told who to vote for, I got thrown out of the polling place.

There was a legal case over all this. I gave a statement to the lawyers. Then the provincial NDP decided to just drop it; a decision I still abhor. This was when the current Alberta premier's daddy was head of the Alberta NDP.

Later, I was an outside scrutineer. I ran around with a check list trying to get people we thought were supporters out to vote. Then I headed back to the polling place where the inside scrutineer was trying to figure out who to cross off on her own list, dancing around with a clip board and looking over the polling clerk's shoulders. And, getting lots of abuse from them.

Since then, the "bingo sheets" have been developed which makes things a lot easier for scrutineers to do their jobs. The poll clerks just check off the sequence numbers on the sheet, also called "bubble sheet", and put out an update every hour for the scrutineers.

There have been various court challenges and rulings about the role of scrutineers. They are a necessary part of the process; they keep it honest and increase voter turnout.

scrutineer supression

However, this time  there seems to have been a great effort to prevent the  scrutineers from seeing  these sheets at all. When we  were training, we were told that  they could see the sheets but not handle them. They could take cell phone  pictures of them once at the end of the day. 

Yet my staff were convinced that  the scrutineers  were  not  supposed to be allowed to look at people's I.D.  and stuff  like that.  They  gave this one girl from the Libs a really hard time  and I had to tell them to back off. I had a hard time getting them to listen to me as I explained the role of scrutineers.

In retrospect, it would have helped if this  Liberal gal had explained better exactly what her problem was. But I admit I had my head slightly up my ass about this developing problem.

Then my DRO, the one who handles  the ballots, got a  ferocious chewing out from  the  Chief returning officer, Carol Aude, decreeing that  the scrutineers were not supposed to be looking at the bingos. Or at least, that is what I assume.  Aude  talked past me, and  the DRO and the scrutineer  were  not really open about what the  problem was. 

Aude ranted at me about how the Liberals were trying to do things they  are not allowed to do and it is a problem all over  the riding. She  got very excited  and  I could not get it clear whether  she was saying they could not see the  bingos at all, or only once an hour, or what. I was somewhat dismayed.

narcissism

Then it was count up time, and suddenly one of the poll clerks did a complete spazz out. Latoya was a kind of bully type all along,  giving the DRO, who she was supposed to be working for, a  hard time. She did not want me looking over   her shoulder. I  told  her that I was  the supervisor,  looking over shoulders was part of my job. She also gave the scrutineer a particularly hard time.

The DRO had two poll clerks working for her at an advance poll. Latoya did not do things right on the first day, recording names of those who voted but not the addresses. She might have thought it unnecessary because the sequence number was beside the name. But Carol made an issue about that when we came into the office at the end of the day.

Almost every poll had the same problem, and some of the people were angry about it. One made the point that if everybody was doing the same things wrong, it meant there was something wrong with the training.

The next day the DRO explained very clearly to Latoya how to do it. She later said that this was where the real trouble started with Latoya. Se felt that Latoya had made up her mind that she was going to get even.

But Latoya started chipping on the DRO, barking at her when she got up for a moment to check something with one of the registration officers. She seemed to have made up her own rule that DRO could not leave the ballot box table while someone was waiting there to vote. This was rubbish because there was one voting booth and people were waiting to use it.

Some of the other staff started picking up on that. One of the registration officers snapped at her "don't treat me like a child" when DRO tried to check something with her. I told her, in effect, so don't act like a child. I told the staff to give the DRO some slack, she has the hardest job here. This calmed things down.

Later one of the registration officers said to me that in fact I had the hardest job here. She also thought a lot of the confusion was about the rules regarding scrutineers. That was true. At one point the scrutineer for the liberals decided to delete the bingo sheet pictures from her cell phone to avoid controversy.

Despite all this, everything ran smoothly. People were getting in, voting, and getting out of the place, with no unpleasant experiences. There were no significant lineups. A few people had trouble finding the place, but that was beyond my control; the poll had been located inside a retail mall and people had to come up to the second floor through a side door.

shit hits fan

So now Latoya  had decided to go nuclear over a nit picking detail of  closing procedures and just would not drop it and let the DRO proceed with the count. The thing is, I had asked for 200 extra ballots in case we ran out. I had to be insistent about it. I had set those aside so they did not confuse DRO during the balance up. Latoya's casus belli was that these should be aded before the count instead of after.

It was obvious that she had to go. I told her  to leave, she refused. I told her to leave or  have the cops called on her. She would not. I went out and called the cops. She called  the returning officer. 

The returning officer called me up and started screaming at me that I  was right out of line about calling the cops.  That was total hogwash. I was there, she was not, it was my discretion. This  was what I  was taught in training. The last time I was a poll supervisor I had to call the cops to deal with disruptive behavior from a spazzy scrutineer, in fact.

As well, Carol seemed to be confused about nature of the problem. She seemed to think I was also objecting to the DRO, instead of defending her. She would not listen that Latoya was refusing to let the vote count proceed, which is a criminal offense. There was not much use trying to talk to Carol, she was hollering, not listening.

I  had no intention of canceling the call until Latoya left, but she did  and I cancelled.  So we got on with the count. By that time another  official from the Liberals had arrived. We both agreed that the claim that scrutineers could not access  the  bingos, and the voting list  itself, to verify who had voted, was ridiculous.  The scrutineers cannot do their work at all if they can't have this information. 

This  guy was a lot more assertive. The  gal who had been there all day was a bit shy. It would  have helped if she  had  explained  better to me what  her problem was. I expected her  and the poll clerks to work it out between themselves. 

The DRO  was also  much too shy. She would  just mumble about how she did not want to be in the middle of some fight between  the Liberal party and elections Canada. But now she was thoroughly rattled and had trouble focussing to count  up the ballots. Finally  I had to give her a hand, and we  got out of there to take the paraphernalia over to the office by cab. 

Somehow,  we got there  without the ballot box.  I thought she had  it. She  thought I  had it. We both had to lug around bags of stuff. It seems she mistook a discarded accessibility box I was using as a container for left over food, for the ballot box. It really was not a hard  mistake to make  although it was her  who   was supposed to keep  the ballot box in her possession. 

This  was  the start of another screaming  fit from Carol. Fortunately  Michael,her assistant, was able to  exert a calming influence on her. We tried explaining to her that the building was quite secure, no one was coming in there until we opened up the next day. That was not good enough for Carol. So, we figured out  how to contact  harbor front security  to let Carol in to recover the box.

There were more troubles. I could not immediately find the "incident report" that she had demanded I fill out over the scrutineers demand to se the sheets. It was probably in the brown folder of forms I turned in, but I would have had to look through it. I did not consider that sort of thing to be a priority.

Carol started a rant about how the Liberals were trying to get away with things they had no right to do. They were targeting my poll as a weak point. Michael   got her to calm down before she went further, but this was very creepy. I   told them emphatically that nobody was "targeting" the poll and nobody was trying to "get away with" anything. I also repeated DROs line that I did not want to be in the middle of Carol's grudge fight with the Liberals.

I and the DRO went home on the streetcar. We live only two blocks apart. I gave her a TTC token because she discovered she did not have the fare and thought we were going home by cab like last night. She did not want to talk about it all, and seemed completely wrecked.

coup

I thought about this over night and decided I was going to have to make very sure Latoya was being removed before I continued as a supervisor. I have seen enough people like her before to know there is no point messing around with them. They want domination and the only solution is to get rid of them.

However, next morning, day three of the advance poll, as I got ready to go  in to work again, Michael called me up and said I was being removed as supervisor. He promised to try to find me another position for election day.

I was very disturbed to hear from him that Latoya had been appointed as DRO and I and Janet were supposed to come in and brief our replacements for an hours pay. This was really ridiculous, irresponsible and seemed designed to create a fight.

I came in and found the DRO. She was retrieving her personal things. She said she was leaving the minute Latoya arrived. I did not have much chance to talk to her because Latoya came in shortly after. I briefed my replacement and left with my things.

Latoya seemed to be acting as though she was now in charge of everything, including the information and registration officers who were looking at her very tensely and dubiously. I do not know exactly how that turned out. I just walked out.

rebellion

So I went home  and by good luck  encountered the head trainer for  this district for Elections Canada, and my neighbor, and explained  what had happened. He was appalled, and wanted to take some action once  he got back into town after thanksgiving. I looked through   the  various manuals and memos. 

I  decided I am going to challenge this.  They were  talking about finding me some other  position to work on  election day, but it was obvious to me that this would not work out. I was not going to enforce  what amounted to voter suppression. I wrote out a statement to that effect and pedaled on over  to the office. 

Michael and Carol did not  like to read it, and  were  haughtily dismissive of my suggestion   that I should get paid for what I could have made over the full five days. But they could not very well refuse to pay me the two days worked  plus training time. That added up to quite a bit. 

They tried to get me to sign something   that amounted to an open ended admission of blame. I told them I wanted a copy of it  but I was not going to sign it. They would not give me a copy unless I signed it. Sleazy pricks. 

So, back  on the bike and over to  Liberal campaign HQ, a few blocks away. I was once again lucky and ran right across the fellow who was there for the count the previous  night. We spent some time talking this over. He felt that his scrutineers were being harassed and had some objections to Carol. He found my letter very useful. 

The whole thing  is  really nutty, because the Liberals were well ahead in this riding anyway. If this is conservative voter suppression, what is the point? The Tories  are not a factor in this riding.

 

Yet this could be an effective way of suppressing the vote, especially the anti-conservative vote. It is the center to left parties which have the most trouble getting their supporters out to vote on election day. It also prevents detection of a politically appointed elections organization fiddling with the voter's lists. I remembered some games played in Alberta, of whole areas not enumerated and missing from the voter's list.

reflections

This is  the most trouble I have had working an election. Even the one where I was DRO and I got a complete whack for a poll clerk, who wanted to go around the horn over some nitpick perceived irregularity of mine, had a simple solution. Me and the supervisor tricked him into going outside, and locked the door on him for the count.

Election work, like other forms of casual work, does attract a high proportion of people with narcissist and other personality problems. There is no way to weed them out except on the job. That is why having sensible people in the key positions is so important.

This election did not seem to be run very well. Many of the employees complained about the poor choices of polling places. I have written about my location. We had to station the information officer downstairs, so anyone with a wheelchair could be raised up on a freight elevator requiring a key to operate.

I went by the local polling station on regular polling day and found them working in a corner of a cafeteria, with full length glass windows all around. The poll screens were against these windows so anyone could look in and see over the shoulder of someone voting.

Another issue seemed to be having to go a long way from their own neighborhoods to work. Almost the whole of my crew  was from within a three block radius around the St.Lawrence community center, another advance poll station, but we were all working up around  Queens Quay and Spadina. 

Another of my neighbors, who lives across the street from the polling station, complained to me that he could not get work there and had to go all the way to the Liberty village area. He is in a wheelchair.

complaint

After the election, I returned to the Liberal office and learned a few more things. The Liberal party began  a strenuous objection to Aude's refusal to allow scrutineers to  scrutinize. She was out on the same day I had been sacked, and her assistant ran the election from there. I get the impression there was quite a blow up at the poll I was supervising, after I left. 

However, the Liberal campaign people I talked to were  afraid to  say much about it. I could not find "Bill" again. They say that Aude "did not  know the rules". I think  she was trying to make up her own  rules. They all told me to put in a complaint with Elections Canada at their web site.

I have  put in my  complaint about all this and I am trying to find the DRO to get her to put one in as well. I am trying to find out more about this because it is  a very interesting situation. It is a case study in the effects of toxic, narcissistic personalities on organizations. 

watching from the sidelines

So, this is the first election in a long while where I got to watch the results come in sitting back in comfort, and not helping to formulate the results. I got an invite from Samara and Google to come to their non partisan elections party. I liked the non partisan part and I always love the opportunity for a free oink out.

I think this invite had to do with my work for Fair Vote, which marked me as a "community leader" who they want to cultivate. So on election night I was eating chicken wings and other nibbly things on the 14th floor of a downtown office tower and watching the Liberal tide roll in.

They baked fresh donuts and there were four colors of icing to decorate them with. Red was popular there, blue not much used. Once I heard that Liz May was re-elected, I dipped my donut in Green.

As I munched I reflected wryly that only five years ago I predicted that there would be no more federal majority governments in Canada. This was before the Ignatieff fiasco of 2011. The 2015 red tide is more about the strategic voting crowd finally getting it together, than about the merits of the Liberals. The Deepers did not seem to really want the job of being the anti-conservatives, so it fell to the Liberals.

past and future with Elections Canada

That, and the Liberal promise of voting reform. That seems to be set in motion now. So I wondered what working on a PR election would be like. Under an STV system, with ranking of ballots for multiple candidates, there would be no choice but an electronic tabulation of votes. Poll workers would be limited to checking I.D., crossing off lists, and stuffing ballots into a tabulator. No hand counting, just like the civic election.

If this MMP, mixed member proportionality, goes through, that could be complicated. I do not want to start a discussion of the voting systems here, so I assume the reader is familiar with them. If you aren't you know what to do.

You would have to count each ballot twice; first the seat count, then the party count. I can't imagine what kind of procedures the geniuses of Elections Canada will devise for recording and filing away all this. During this election they have had an accountancy firm audit their procedures to try to make it simpler.

But that is the end of elections for awhile, unless there is a by-election or a referendum. There should be a referendum on changing the vote system.

But yes, I remember working on the "Charlottetown accord" referendum back in '92, when I lived in Calgary. The first vote I ever worked on was the "free trade" election of '88. Yes, I go that far back with elections Canada.

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