Dirty ballots reported in three ridings at advance polls

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Photo: flickr/ Dennis S. Hurd

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There have been multiple reports of printing errors or markings on ballots in the advance polls in the federal election.

In one post on Facebook that has been shared over 19,000 times, Chris Quarrie, a teacher in Vancouver, said that when he went to vote he was given a ballot that "had been pre-marked, with what looked like black streaks, in the 'circle' where you mark your X."

The incident reportedly happened in Point Grey, Vancouver at an advance polling station in the Point Grey United Church.

Quarrie said he returned the ballot to the election officials who then threw it out as a spoiled ballot and issued him a second ballot.

Quarrie said the second ballot was marked in the same way and counted a spoiled. His third ballot was clean and he was able to cast his vote.

Quarrie said that one of the ballots had the mark was in the circle for the conservative candidate and on the other it was in the circle for the Green Party candidate.

"The black streaks looked more like printing errors, sort of like the black carbon paper made a streak in the circle, than pen strokes. I don't think there was a malicious intent," said Quarrie in a Facebook message to rabble.ca. "However, I don't know what goes on during counting and how strict they are about throwing out spoiled ballots so I didn't want to take any chances, so I notified the officials. They were pretty shaken up by the look of it."

In Toronto, journalist and documentary filmmaker Sarah Martin noticed a similar problem when she went to vote.

"The first ballot I was given had a line of black ink smeared on one of the circles which would have made my vote a rejected ballot," wrote Martin on Facebook. "I handed it back and they counted it as a spoiled ballot and gave me a new clean one. Make sure to double check your ballot!"

Speaking to rabble.ca Martin said, "my first reaction is without close examination it looked like a smear from a ballpoint pen, you know when you get a bit of ballpoint pen on your palm and you just smear a little bit of it? It kind of looked like that. But in retrospect it was probably a printing error because no one had touched the ballot, no one had ink -- you vote with pencils, so it didn't make a lot of sense that it would be an ink smear. It was subtle enough that I still cast my vote on the ballot, it was only when I asked the register whether that would constitute a rejected ballot."

After seeing Quarrie's post on Facebook that Martin decided she needed to let people know about her experience.

"I feel it's a pretty important election that's why I did advance voting and that's why I posted on Facebook is to say check your ballots and make sure that they're clean so your vote counts. Because the worst thing is to be one of the people who votes, then have your vote rejected."

Art Lowe, the Libertarian Party candidate in Victoria, says he also noticed problems with his ballot. "I didn't really think much of it, but the quality of the paper was really horrible and some of the stuff was kind of smudged."

Diane Benson, a spokesperson for Elections Canada, said that ballots with printing errors are rare but do happen.

"These cases are rare and electors are the ones that usually find it. The elections act contemplates this possibility, if you find your ballot has a mark go to the Deputy Returning officer and you will be given a new ballot."

In addition to being able to return ballots that have marks or printing errors, people can also request a new ballot once if they make a mistake in the voting booth.

In the 2011 federal election there were a total of 99,428 rejected ballots or 0.7 per cent of the over 14.7 million ballots cast.

Mick Sweetman is the managing editor of The Dialog and frequent rabble contributor. Follow him on twitter @MickSweetman.

Photo: flickr/ Dennis S. Hurd

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