The latest Strathcona Regional District meeting on March 13 was dominated by Cortes Island issues.
While most have been well-publicized and discussed at length by the board, there was one issue that had been quietly unfolding behind the scenes.
The RCMP in recent months had been investigating complaints of voter fraud from the fall elections. At the time, voters decided on their choice of Electoral Area B Director and two non-binding referendum questions. Ultimately, the RCMP could not substantiate any claims of fraud.
Area B Director Noba Anderson told the board she was grateful to receive the report and thanked both SRD staff and the RCMP.
“It’s sort of a double-edged sword for me,” she said. “At one level, I’m really, really grateful to live in a democracy … but I also wonder to what extreme these kinds of actions could be taken without some kind of repercussion.”
SRD chief administrative officer Dave Leitch replied that whether police investigate depends on whether they feel there are reasonable grounds rather than on factors such as the number of complaints.
“They’re kind of tight-lipped about providing anything they don’t have to or don’t want to,” he said. “If they feel there’s something to investigate, they investigate.”
At the March 13 meeting, board and staff discussed the police report. In short, the Quadra Island RCMP were following up on a complaint made by a citizen last November that questioned the legality of 43 people voting on Cortes Island.
“They asked for our assistance, which we provided in looking through the voting records before they were destroyed,” said SRD corporate services manager Tom Yates, who also served as chief election officer for the SRD.
Voter fraud can take a number of forms, including voting while not entitled to do so, casting a ballot more than once, impersonating someone for the purposes of voting and selling or transferring a ballot. In the Cortes case, the complaints surrounded allegations the voters in question did not meet residency requirements.
For those voters in question, most provided evidence of residency, though nine did not. In these situations, the people had to make a solemn declaration they were eligible to vote before they received a ballot.
The Quadra RCMP detachment worked through the voter list and spoke to the individuals and witnesses to verify questions of residency.
“We concluded through our investigation, that these individuals did, in fact, meet the basic requirements of the Local Government Act regarding their status as resident voters. After consultations with the Director of Investigations for Elections BC, it was determined that they could find no information within their records that would contradict the results of our investigation,” Cpl. Sean Bulford of the Quadra RCMP wrote in his letter to the SRD.
One factor in the investigation was that SRD had a statutory requirement to destroy ballots from the election by Dec. 19, which would have provided potential evidence in the event the RCMP charged someone.
“We came to the conclusion that no legal mechanism existed for investigators to preserve those voting records, except by way of search warrant. The threshold for a search warrant is reasonable and probable grounds, not merely suspicion. We lacked the grounds to obtain a search warrant for the voting record,” Bulford said.
Had the police met someone who could not meet the requirements, the RCMP would have applied for a search warrant. In B.C., offences such as fraudulently voting can bring penalties of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to a year.