Page one of the Dec. 14, 1955 Chilliwack Progress declares Clarence R. Newby a winner of a city council seat after a judicial recount. (Progress)

OPINION: Recounting Chilliwack’s history of election recounts

A relatively rare occurrence, there have been a few over the last 70 years

Before last week’s judicial recount of the ballots for the Chilliwack school board election, one candidate suggested to me that this was a run-of-the mill procedure.

During and after the proceedings, however, it became quite clear that this was in fact quite rare and was a unique experience for nearly all involved.

But there have been recounts in Chilliwack in the past and The Progress archives tell some tales.

• READ MORE: Only one vote of 24,700 ballots changes after Chilliwack school board election recount

Seventy-one years ago in 1947, two council candidates, Noble Ryder from Rosedale and James Johnston in East Chilliwack tied. A day-long check showed Johnston won by a single vote, and Ryder accepted the decision.

In 1949, the closest election in the township’s history took place when Reeve W.T. Richardson was defeated by W.G.R. Simpson by one vote.

There was no official recount. Simpson originally won by four votes but a check by the municipal clerk cut that down to one. Richardson had the right to ask for an official recount but he accepted the decision as final.

Interestingly, and different from today, if there had been a tie, they would not have drawn lots. Instead, the returning officer himself would have cast a ballot, and since the incumbent had not lost the election, the vote would go to him.

The oldest recount I could find was in 1955 when Clarence R. Newby of Sardis received 1,364 votes for council and John Martens of Yarrow received 1,345 votes. The vote difference was 19.

“The recount was called by Returning officer Dick Dayton because over 416 spoiled ballots caused a reasonable doubt about the outcome.”

The count started at 10 a.m. on one day ending 24 hours later. The result? Newby retained his victory.

(Also of note in that election, the first woman ever was elected to the school board, Atchelitz housewife Mrs. M. Friesen earned 1,530 votes finishing in top spot.)

The Nov. 21, 1979 Progress reported that because of narrow margins in vote figures between Cyril “Boots” Boutilier with 2,633 and Dorothy Kostrzewa with 2,629, returning officer Roy Whitehead ordered a recount. Kostrzewa finished on top after that recount.

That same year, local businessman Geoff Clark finished ninth for the eight-seat council, 10 votes behind township alderman Jack Andrews. Clark asked for a recount “primarily because he said workers in the returning office were disorganized and that left room for error.”

It was the right move as a “major error” was discovered and he got 100 more votes making him the youngest member on the new council.

The Feb. 10, 1982 Progress announced a new election would be held March 27 after hundreds of spoiled ballots in the November 1981 civic election.

Then there was 1981, a debacle of an election. Young Clark now ran for mayor, won the election, but before he was sworn in, the election’s very legitimacy was questioned.

“An inauguration is normally a happy occasion,” Clark said as quoted in the Dec. 9, 1981 Progress. “Unfortunately this inauguration has had a cloud cast over it.”

An application was made by six citizens to the court asking for the election to be declared invalid by the court “because the election was not conducted according to law.” There were allegations that adequate privacy was not afforded some voters and concern over ballots not being handled correctly.

A BC Supreme Court Justice did order a new election, which was held on March 27, 1982. Clark won again.

In November 1990, there was a familiar name in the news on the subject of recounts.

Sharon Gaetz missed a seat on the Chilliwack school board in 1990 to Martha Wiens by 14 votes. A recount found the difference 12 votes with Wiens retaining the seat. (Progress archives)

“All three school board candidates whose children attend private schools were defeated in last weekend’s elections, including incumbent Sharon Gaetz,” a news story began.

Gaetz then asked for a recount after she was defeated by Martha Wiens by 14 votes, 5,702 over 5,688. The Dec. 12, 1990 paper reported that the recount found Wiens to be the winner by 12 votes, and the school district picked up the $5,000 cost of the recount.

There was a particularly bizarre situation in Harrison Hot Springs in the 1993 election when John Allen received 148 votes over May Murphy’s 147. An unofficial recount took place changing it to Murphy with 147 and Allen with 146. A judicial recount was ordered and by the end of January 1994, Allen was the winner, 150 to 148.

Murphy then petitioned to declare the election or the seat invalid because of voting irregularities, namely three non-residents voted. That was ordered, a byelection was held in April, and Allen won.

And that’s about it by way of local recounts. That is, until last week when Judge Andrea Ormiston finished two days of recounting 24,700 ballots to determine Jared Mumford had indeed defeated Kaethe Jones for the seventh and final spot on the Chilliwack school board.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack school board on the hook for cost of judicial recount


@PeeJayAitchpaul.henderson@theprogress.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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