Hundreds vote by mistake in Yarmouth County school board election

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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The fight for the African Nova Scotian seat on the Tri-County Regional School Board has involved a lot of non-African Nova Scotians.

Lawyers for Rev. Michael Alden Fells have asked 30 witnesses to appear in Yarmouth court for four days this fall.

Fells, who had held the seat since 2004, is contesting the election because he says people who were not qualified to vote for the African Nova Scotian seat voted anyway, either because they were confused by the electronic and telephone voting process, or because once they got onto a certain computer screen, they could only get out of it by casting a vote.

To prove that, his lawyers, Silver and Taylor of Bridgewater, used the list of people who voted in the ANS election and began contacting voters last fall.

They asked the voters if they were African Nova Scotian, if they were married to an African Nova Scotian or if they had children who were African Nova Scotian.

If the answer was no to all of the above, they asked if, by voting for the African Nova  Scotian seat, the voter had intended to identify themselves as belonging to the African Nova Scotian community.

If again the answer was no, the lawyers asked if the voter would mind going to the courthouse to sign an affidavit.

One Digby man who did so, and wants to remain anonymous, willingly admitted his mistake and signed court documents in January.

He thought that was the end of it for him but instead he received a letter asking him to attend court in Yarmouth for four days – Oct. 15,16,17 and 18 starting at 9 a.m. each day.

For his trouble he would be paid $66.28  -- $20.40 as a witness fee and $45.80 for four trips to Yarmouth and back.

“I thought I was doing the right thing signing those documents,” the voter told the Digby Courier. “I didn’t have to but I wanted to do the right thing. And now this.”

The letter, from lawyers Silver and Taylor to the witnesses, says a computer randomly selected 30 witnesses out of the 247 people who signed affadavits confirming they cast a ballot by mistake.

The voter says he can’t afford to lose four days’ work and he is scared what his boss will say.

“I don’t care if they give me $400, I don’t want to do it and I don’t understand why my signature isn’t enough.”

Brent Silver of Silver and Taylor said he would be able to tell the witness more precisely when he may be required to testify.

He says the witnesses have to appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court to allow Darlene Lawrence’s lawyers a chance to cross-examine them.

Lawrence won the ANS seat last fall with 239 more votes than Fells.

She had 570 votes and Fells 351 for a total of 921 voters. Fells says that’s almost a 100 per cent voting rate.

According to the 2006 census, there were 1,125 Black people in Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne counties. Perhaps 88 per cent of them would be 19 and over for a rough number of 990.

“It’s clear a lot of people voted who shouldn’t have,” said Fells last fall.  “They are taking away the right of the Black community to send their own representative to the board.”

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