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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

34% of returning officers have a known association with the tories.

The Edmonton Journal is reporting this morning that approximately 28 returning officers running the show in Alberta's 2008 election are affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party. As others have pointed out:

That means that approx. 34% of returning officers have a known association with the Tories. For this proportion to be just by chance (that is, the returning officer population represents an accurate reflection of the population at large) there would have to be approx. 1.1 million current or former PC party members in Alberta. The PCs are popular, but not that popular.
Alberta's Chief Returning Officer Lorne Gibson has made a number of recommendations to Tory Justice Minister Ron Stevens on how to revamp Alberta's election process. One of these recommendations, which obviously wasn't adopted, included:
2. Prohibition against political activity

Returning officers are currently prohibited from engaging in political activity in support of a political party or candidate, and from making a contribution under the Elections Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. There is no similar restriction on parrisan activity at the constituency association level.

All election officers, and particularly Returning Officers, must be completely non-partisan in fact and perception. The prohibition on political activity should include a restriction on constituency association level participation.

Since the Election Clerk may be called upon to replace the Returning Officer in the case of absence or inability to act, and because of the high profile of that position, the same prohibitions should apply.

Recommendations:
a. Expand the list of prohibited activities for Returning Officer to include participation at the constituency association level.
b. Extend the prohibition against political activity to include Election Clerks.
Is it too much to ask that "all election officers, and particularly Returning Officers, must be completely non-partisan in fact and perception?" Judging Ed Stelmach's response to the allegations, maybe it is after 37-years of Tory governments.

37 comments:

Jeff said...

Now I see the game here, it's your intention to ensure people don't make their association with the PC's know. So it's a witch hunt. Well good luck. I'm sure with all the previous problems that have existed with Returning Officers this issue is a big one.

Keep up the good work Nancy Drew!

Jennifer said...

Is this election really that boring that the media has to make issues out of nothing now? wow, it's a sad day for Liberals when this is the best they can do.

This is a non-issue. Making it one demonstrates the inability to look at real issues. Perhaps the PC's really are that effective at governing that elections become about little things.

jeremy said...

Typical Tory arrogance: game the system to put your pawns in charge of the local elections, and smear anyone who points out the conflict of interest.

I would expect this kind of crap from the feds, but not in Alberta. We need a real change from this tired old guard -- now.

Jennifer said...

Typical Liberal arrogance, claim the moral high ground on EVERY issue, make mountains out of a mole hill, and then generalize everything into the fact that a change is needed, except of course when a Liberal gov't is in power.

Thank god we live in Alberta, where Liberals are as rare as intelligent debate on this blog.

I'm willing to let the people of Alberta decide, and when the PC Party wins, and wins big, I look forward to your reactions.

Anonymous said...

No one is questioning the organizational or personal integrity of these individuals, but Albertans should expect that if there is one place that partisan people will not be placed it is in the center of our non-partisan election system.

These appointments cast a bad name on Alberta politics. Shame on the conservatives for appointing them. Albertans deserve better.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, you absence of humility is revolting. If this were a party whose ideology you opposed, you'd be all over here asking for fairness. When it's yours it's "making a mountain out of a molehill." Grow up. Orthodox idiots like you are what's wrong with the system.

I don't give a damn if people's affiliation is with the Tories, the liberals or the bloody separatist party of lower east cowflop: there's a reason elections are supposed to be handled impartially, you bloody political vulture.

Jennifer said...

Wow anonymous, nicely done on classing it up. At least have the fortitude to admit your name when you call someone an idiot and a vulture. You embarass yourself and those you claim to support by being so ignorant. You shame yourself with your name calling. Perhaps you belong with other children to play such petty games?

Absence of humility indeed. You demean everyone with your derogatory words.

Anonymous said...

Let's be serious for a minute, Daveberta. This is a silly little non-issue. And, if you seriously think it is an issue, please provide the percentage of returning officers that have Liberal, NDP and Wildrose Alliance connections. And, FYI, 34% is not very high in comparision to provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Anonymous said...

There it goes again. I was addressing YOUR comment specifically, but in typical zealot fashion you instead turn it into an attack on people posting anonymously, as if there couldn't be any good reason for that.

Address the point, vulture-girl: should returning officers be neutral or not? Apparently, you dont' think so. Explain yourself, don't just take a side, then bury your head in the sand.

As for your ridiculous "demeaning" comment, the only person I'm demeaning is you. The absence of humility comes from the fact that you can't even recognize why.

As for "those I claim to support", I HAVEN'T claimed to support anyone. You're just being a typical ideological demagogue and assuming everyone is a moron like yoU: someone who has all the answers before they've even heard the question, because people on the right are "always right" and people on the left are "always wrong."

You have no idea what a dinosaur you are, do you? Your kind of behaviour on here -- jumping to the defense of something that is indefensably undemocratic -- IS what is wrong with the system.


Try debating the point, not trying to spin what you see as an opponent's answer, and I'll try seeing you as something less demeaning that a moron.

Heather said...

aside from the obvious coflict of interest what damage can an RO really inflict?

And I'm not being glib...I am truly wondering exactly what power can a biased RO wield? There are checks and balances in our electoral process that makes ballot tampering and what not almost impossible.

What's the worst case scenario?
What are you all worried that RO might do?

steve said...

I think anonymous is worried about dinosaurs...

Jennifer said...

I'll address your point and answer your question when you mature a little bit. I do not converse in an adult fashion with those who attempt to bring down everyone with their juvenile comments. You show a little respect, and you might get some. For while you may disagree with me, disagreement does not justify insults, no matter what you may have been raised to believe.

But because i feel sorry for you i will attempt to explain. Judges are supposed to be impartial and yet are appointed by political leaders in Canada. Does that make them biased and in a conflict of interest? Impartiality is not who someone is, it's what someone does, therefore how can you judge the impartiality of actions when they have not even occurred yet?

Your criticisms are premature, and unfounded. But i'm sure you will have some retort to this, followed by more insults i simply can't wait to read.

Scott said...

The RO is responsible for appointing, training and supervising all of the election workers in that constituency. He or she is also responsible for making sure laws and procedures are properly followed throughout the election process. There are checks and balances, sure, but the RO is a position of considerable power and influence.

When the election process goes sideways, it can get ugly. Google "ward 10 scandal" to see a recent example from Calgary.

In the case of the current election, we're not talking casual PC members. We're talking hard-core PC supporters, some of them executive members in their own constituency associations, acting as "neutral" arbiters. The "referee" analogy is very apt. The ref doesn't play the game or score the goals, but he or she is in charge of interpreting and applying the rules.

I don't know what's more disturbing -- the fact that blatantly partisan people are being routinely appointed as returning officers in Alberta, or the fact that people like Stelmach and Jennifer see absolutely nothing wrong with the practice.

In recent provincial elections, several seats have been decided by a few dozen votes. A returning officer can play a critical role in deciding an election's outcome. If you've ever read a blog post by Allie Wojtaszek, you should know how outrageous it is to have her overseeing the election in Edmonton-Meadowlark.

This may be business as usual in Alberta, but it's a disgrace and an embarrassment. And it ain't no molehill.

scott said...

Here's a very cute picture of Meadowlark returning officer Allie Wojtaszek, her husband Duncan (president of the Meadowlark PC constituency association) and their pal Eddie.

Jennifer said...

So again i'll ask the question, should we be judging people for being in a conflict before they have even completed the task to which they are being criticized for? That's not only illogical, it's immoral.

Don't use words like disgrace and embarassment Scott, you come across like someone who doesn't understand the issue. RO's have a very important job to do, and it will get done, it's unfortunate you choose to judge people before they even have done the action to which you are judging them....that's a very scary practice.

Anonymous said...

what does having your picture taken with the Premier have to do with anything? Some of you are getting scary...these are people's lives Scott, perhaps you should be careful how far you go here.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck trying to find anyone anywhere in the world to work as a returning officer who doesn't have an interest in politics, hasn't seeked out political positions at the junior or high school level, or who doesn't know someone how influenced them greatly to get into politics based on their mentor's career. There are many of you here who are cutting down those who were appointed, but you all sound like sour grapes to me. In a heartbeat all of you would trade places with the appointed returning officers and you know it. Stop being so petty and miserable. Let them do the jobs they were hired to do. Why does there always have to be ulterior motives? Why must you all be so suspcious? And exactly how does one as a returning officer have the opportunity to influence the voter's decisions when all they are instructed or required to do is take id, cross off a name, hand out a ballot and ensure that ballot gets into the box and that box gets returned to the counters safely? Have any of you actually worked as a returning officer, ever? I have.

Stacey

eh said...

The problem is not whether the returning officers have ever engaged in politics. As a right, all civil servants can participate in politics (when appropriate and as outlined by their oath of office). The problem is that PC supporters are getting patronage appointments as returning officers (read: rewards for being PC). There is supposed to be a separation between party and government on principle. In this case, it is clear there is a huge overlap.

In addition, I read on another blog that in the rare event of a tie, the returning officer has to cast a tie-breaking vote. If this is true, this presents a HUGE conflict of interest that should not be ignored.

Anonymous said...

If there is a tie in an election and a pre-determined PC Supporter was the RO then yes, I could see a conflict, however, once again that is a HUGE "IF", not to mention we're debating what "could" happen as opposed to what did happen.

Anonymous said...

Nope, no more insults from me, as you are now addressing the core problem behind the issue, and not just ideologically wanking.

I agree, it is very difficult for anyone in this day and age to directly impact process. But the RO is one of the few that DOES have the power to do so, which is why Lorne Gibson, Alberta's ceo, recommended in 2006 having them chosen by a neutral third party. The government did not even respond to his recommendation.

How does the RO have that power? For one, an RO has the power to declare ballots spoiled or incorrect; that immediately gives an RO the power to disqualify ballots, which in a close riding could shift the balance.

For another, the RO has access toriding voter registry lists. All they would have to do is lineup a few names who haven't registered by election day but are eligible in that riding, and they then can use that person's vote without anyone ever knowing about it.

All of these types of shenanigans are well known to the people involved in the process. Which is why the CEO wants neutrality.

AS for why I insulted you? It frustrates the hell out of me that people think the world is so black or white that they can prejudge or preconceive how every issue should play out based on the picking a side in advance. And I've found that in the past, yelling at people like that prompts them to rexamine the issue while defending themself, and not just parrot their side's position.

And sometimes it works.

Scott said...

Far be it from me to suggest that any PC constituency association executive member would be unable to remain impartial as a returning officer. I myself have refereed my daughters' soccer games and went out of my way -- too far, at times -- to avoid playing favourites.

So, I agree, Jennifer, that we have no way of knowing that any of these people will behave less than honourably. But, in the case of a close election, having these people as returning officers will put a dark cloud over the proceedings, however fairly they might act.

And yes, anonymous, it's no crime to have your picture taken with the premier. I once participated in a round dance with Ralph Klein, and that fact shouldn't reflect on my political stance (or my sexual orientation, for that matter).

But take a trip through Allie Wojtaszek's photo album and you'll see that this is more than a casual photo. This woman worships the PCs, as she has every right to, but she should not be a returning officer.

Returning officers should be independently appointed, and prohibited from political activity.

Anonymous said...

Great, so now we have to have a mechanism and an office and staff who interview and do background for 83 very temporary (less than one month) jobs that pay what, a few grand? And heck, can you disqualify someone for ANY job based on their political views? How's that going to work? And they have to find available non-partisan people interested in a partisan process, and they gotta do it probably every two years because nobody but the premier knows when an election will be. (Check it out, the Electoral office's budget gets big bumps already every few years just in case there's an election that fiscal year.) What's frustrating is that nobody can actually say there's a problem with the current system, just their perception. C'mon people, it's our tax money we're talking about. Do we really want to make a non-issue into five more bureaucrats, salaries and benefits, pensions, office rent, hardware, software, advertising, administration, insurance, travel expenses and on and on and on?
I don't.

Anonymous said...

Oh oh! Tory alert! The Edmonton Journal's PC bloodhounds have treed another person "with links to the Tory party." Their Election Notebook blog reports that the head of the River Valley Alliance, who praised a Stelmach promise in a press release (gasp!) is in fact a lawyer (gasp!) who once worked for the Tory party (gasp!).
Horrors. How dare he issue a press release in his allegedly volunteer role, thanking the Tories for a $50-million pledge to create the park that the River Valley Alliance wants, when they did no such thing for the Liberals when they promised to, uh, talk about it.
Thank God for the Journal!

Scott said...

Anonymous has a point. It would take a bit of effort to hire qualified, non-partisan returning officers. Fortunately, Alberta's Chief Returning Officer is ready to take on the job.

If hiring qualified people is too much trouble, let's let the PC party handle all of our public appointments directly from now on.

Or, perhaps we could rely on United Nations personnel to supervise our elections, like they do in other struggling democracies.

jonathan said...

Well said Scott!

Trevor said...

I was hoping we'd see some numbers on which party the other 66% of RO's are affiliated with.

Anonymous said...

Well, OBVIOUSLY that 66% is composed of Liberal constituency presidents, donors, and candidates!

Anonymous said...

The Tory masses on here are displaying some overt stupidity... they all keep referencing the other 66% of RO's and questioning their political leanings. As if Ed Stelmach and his team are so dumb that they would go and appoint a majority of Liberals and New Democrats to the RO posts?

Why that'd be as dumb as not purchasing the premier's own domain name...

OH SNAP!

trevor said...

I guess Anon 7:48 doesn't get the sarcasm from Anon 7:46.

Regardless, I don't think my question was stupid nor dumb. My question didn't even imply my political leanings.

Why are you so quick to attack Anon 7:48?

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem, Jennifer, would feel as sanguine about this situation if the person who had the power to declare your vote invalid was married to the director of the Liberal Party's riding association for your riding? What if that same person had previously posted comments talking about how horrible the PC candidate was?

One must remember that the purpose of an election is not to declare who the winner is, but to get all the people who voted for the losers to agree/accept that their candidate(s) lost in order to preserve peace and order in society. We don't see everybody else's vote, so we have to be able to have trust that those responsible for counting the votes have more vested in a fair count than they do in swaying the direction in any particular manner.

Yes, there will always be some political connection between an RO and a political party, because it's a political appointment, and thus attracts political animals. The point being raised here is that these particular appointee's connections run too deep. It is easy for people who do not know these RO's personally, to see that because of their deep connections to the PC party, they may be tempted to use their power to sway the vote. Whether they do or not is immaterial. The perception alone is what destroys the election.

I would feel similarly uncomfortable if the RO was someone like Dave here or perhaps Dan of CalgaryGrit. Even though I have no reason to doubt that either has the integrity to run a fair election, their strong ties to certain ideologies make them unacceptable -- because I could see other people disputing whether they were totally honest.

burlivespipe said...

scott's last point is on the money. These Tory supporters get up in arms at the mere suggestion that other parties appear to have an edge, that the fed Libs appointed judges during their 13 years in office. They don't see the double-standard of Tories controlling the keys and lockboxes for Alberta voters. No one said the RO have to be unblemished with political interest, but they should not be serious activists within a party. It's plain simple. But you can bet this has been the way for years and years, and only now has the msm decided to challenge and check under the Tory rug.
As to Jennifer et al, I'm betting their rent-a-thugs from Harper's team. They don't even live in Alberta, but the sudden panic in the Alta PROG-CON war room is starting to show.

Scott said...

Awww, now when you try to view Edmonton-Meadowlark returning officer Allie Wojtaszek's extensive photo album of her and hubby Duncan with Ed, Jim Dinning, Dave Hancock, Murray Smith (who performed their wedding ceremony) and others, you just get this message: "Oops! You don't have permission to view this page."

Gee, yesterday she was so proud of her ties with high-ranking PCs, and today she's pretending she doesn't even know them. What kind of a friend is she?

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrutineer

Scott said...

This is currently the top news headline at CBC Alberta Votes (right-click link and open in a new window). They snagged a bunch of juicy screen shots (and quotes) from Allie's photo album before she removed public access to it.

BR said...

Hey Scott,

Why don't you get a life and go help your party with productive election work rather than this disturbing attack on another person's character and invasion of their privacy?

Scott said...

Whoa, harsh words, blakester.

Invasion of privacy? She was the one who posted those photos on the Web. It's not like I was peeking in her window or going through her garbage. I Googled "Allie Wojtaszek."

As for productive election work, it's been three days since this story broke, and they were still talking about it on the radio news this morning as I drove to my kids to school. I call that pretty productive election work.

I have done nothing more than to highlight Allie's political affiliation and to link to photos that she herself proudly posted on the Web (she removed access once the story spread). I have never once called her dishonest or otherwise impugned her character.

While we're at it, yes, I am doing some freelance work with the Alberta Liberals. I am also NOT a returning officer, and would not consider myself qualified for that position. Partisan politics should have no place in the returning office.

And, hey, if calling Allie Wojtaszek an overtly enthusiastic Progressive Conservative supporter constitutes "a disturbing attack on another person's character," I'm guilty as charged. But I'm surprised that Blake would find that allegation offensive.

I now bid farewell to this comment board (this entry makes three dozen, which should about cover the issue). I'm going to go get a life now.

Anonymous said...

It's quite amusing watching the orthodox righties on here spluttering about in their attempts to invalidate the idea of neutrality.

It's also worth nothing that if you read the Sun over the last two days, you'd find that they also tried to influence Gibson during the byelections last spring.