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City denies candidate's request for recount of election vote

One reason returning officer David Leflar cited for denying the request was a lack of evidence or grounds for the allegations.
recount CC
St. Albert council candidate Ross Guffei requested the recount after he received phone calls and emails from impassioned residents, he said. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

The City of St. Albert has denied a council candidate’s request for a recount of the municipal election. 

Applications for a recount must happen within 44 hours of the polls closing on election day, according to the Local Authorities Election Act. Ross Guffei, the candidate who made the request, asked for a recount of the votes at the tail end of the 44-hour time frame according to the city. 

St. Albert’s returning officer David Leflar denied the request. A press release sent out by the city on Oct. 21 said one reason Leflar listed was Guffei did not provide evidence or show grounds for the allegations. 

Guffei said after the election he received phone calls and emails from impassioned residents who felt the election results didn’t reflect the “sentiment on the street.” Additionally, Guffei cited concerns with errors that could have been made in the vote being counted electronically, saying he specifically requested a manual recount. 

Finishing eighth in the council race for six seats, 1,348 votes separated Guffei and councillor-elect Shelley Biermanski. Guffei said he is not asking for the recount with the expectation of winning, but rather to ensure St. Albertans have peace of mind. 

“A recount will go one of two ways: either the city will find there are discrepancies, or we confirm residents of St. Albert voted the way they did,” Guffei said. “This is a democratic society, and we have the right to ask.”

According to the act, the returning officer may make a recount of the votes cast at one or more voting stations if a candidate, official agent, or scrutineer, shows grounds the returning officer considers reasonable for alleging the vote count is inaccurate.

The Oct. 21 press release outlining Leflar’s decision said Guffei had alleged improper counting, electronic malfunctions, and improper striking of ballots at different voting stations in St. Albert. 

The release outlined the reasons why Leflar had denied the request: the lack of evidence or grounds for allegations; the request arriving at the end of the 44-hour time frame; the request’s implication of either negligence or wilful misconduct on the part of election officials; and the rule that the returning officer must use the same counting method used in the election. 

This process of recounting would involve fitting new memory cards for the tabulating machines, something not possible before the deadline to complete the recount and announce the official results, city spokesperson Cory Sinclair relayed in the release.

“Given the nature of the allegations, and the time frame involved, it would be more appropriate for the candidate to request a recount through the Court of Queen’s Bench,” Sinclair said.

There is a 19-day window after the election where a judicial recount can be requested. The court is not limited to a machine recount. 

Zachary Al-Khatib, the lawyer providing Guffei’s legal counsel, said his clients are considering their legal options. 

When asked who Al-Khatib was representing in addition to Guffei, he said there are “a number of concerned people” who had reached out to him. 

“I just have one client,” Al-Khatib said. “What I should have said is there are multiple individuals who were concerned about the election results.” 

Al-Khatib said he and Guffei disagree with Leflar about whether there are sufficient grounds for a recount. 

“That’s neither here nor there, because [Leflar] goes on to say that even if there were sufficient grounds, he basically couldn’t do it,” Al-Khatib said. “Personally, that’s concerning the municipality isn’t practically able to do recounts.”

The Gazette reached out to all candidates — elected and unelected — to see whether they were aware of Guffei’s pursuit of a recount. 

Candidates who responded said they were unaware of the request beyond the city’s press release. Sheena Hughes and Angela Wood did not respond by press time on Tuesday. 

Councillor-elect Mike Killick said he did hear about the recount request “unofficially.”

“I got a phone call from one of the other candidates saying three different people had observed things they wanted some questions raised about,” Killick said. "They were there as scrutineers at Servus Place.”

Killick’s wife was also a scrutineer to the final election vote, and had posed a question to Leflar about how the vote counting machines worked. Specifically, she was looking to confirm whether the machine could read ballots inserted right side up and right side down.

“They got back to us immediately with confirmation and sent the answer to all candidates,” Killick said. “That was our only question.”

Killick would not confirm who the candidate that called him was, or if it was the same candidate that ultimately made the request for a recount. 

Sandy Clark, who was next in line for council behind the winners by a margin of 229 votes, said she had received the press release from the city, but until then had been unaware of the initial request for a recount.  

“I was definitely the closest council candidate who didn’t win, but I’ve accepted the result,” Clark said. 

Jennifer Cote also said she wasn’t aware of the recount request, but in any email shared she has received “many messages” from residents who expressed general surprise about the election results based on how those in their close circles voted. 

In Edmonton, a recount requested by a council candidate following the municipal election was also denied. Thirty-three votes separated council candidate Rhiannon Hoyle and councillor-elect Jennifer Rice in ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi. Hoyle wanted to confirm the tight race, but Edmonton Elections refused, affirming the results were correct 

St. Albert’s election results were made official on Oct. 22.