Legal challenge alleges irregularities in Cambridge, Ont’s. 2022 municipal election
Legal challenge alleges irregularities in Cambridge, Ont’s. 2022 municipal election

A city council candidate in Cambridge’s 2022 municipal election has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court alleging a series of over 30 election irregularities that took place. 

Nate Whalen, a candidate for city council in Cambridge’s 3rd Ward, is alleging a multitude of irregularities with the electoral process, from candidate nominations to the tabulation of the ballots. 

The alleged irregularities include issues with online voting, eligible voters being unable to vote, issues with the scrutineering process, and candidates being left off of the ballot.

In an exclusive interview with True North, Whalen says he first began to notice irregularities in August 2022, when city clerk Danielle Manton disallowed scrutineering for the candidate nomination process.

Scrutineers are individuals designated by candidates to oversee the counting of ballots on election day. They are not generally used when candidates are submitting the paperwork to be placed on the ballot, though Whalen’s complaint says they should be.

“Typically at every step of the process in a municipal election you should be able to have scrutineers present to oversee the process to make sure it is done properly,” he says.

“I emailed the clerk and said ‘Hey, I’d like to come out and scrutinize the nominations’ and she said, ‘No, you can’t do that, it’s a private process.’” 

One of the key allegations regarding the nomination process was the city’s unwillingness to accept the nomination of Cambridge resident Michelle Goodridge to run in as a Ward 1 candidate, despite Goodridge submitting all of the necessary paperwork and 25 nomination signatures. 

Goodridge told True North that in June 2022, she submitted 28 signatures to the city clerk, who signed off on her nomination papers and told her she was free to begin campaigning. But, Goodridge says a clerical error was made – that the city misplaced a page of her signatures, causing her application to be denied by just one signature.

“I received the call minutes after the deadline to confirm nominations that I had been rejected. I promptly met with the clerk the following day at City Hall and had the three supporters from the missing page email her saying they had endorsed me. Despite this meeting, I was told I could not continue to run,” says Goodridge. 

Goodridge says that Manton had the authority to allow her to run and had made reasonable accommodations for other candidates, but no such accommodations were made for her. Emails confirm that Ward 4 candidate and eventual winner Ross Earnshaw was able to correct an error in his application after the nomination deadline, an opportunity not afforded to Goodridge. 

“When someone tells you everything is in order and goes through a nomination checklist with you that they signed off on, you assume you have done everything necessary so I had no reason to believe this would happen to me.”

Manton declined to comment when reached by True North.

Cambridge’s Ward 1 Councillor Donna Reid says that she has not heard of any of the allegations, and that no constituents have addressed the issue with her.

“I assume the people who will look into this will look into this very carefully,” said Reid.

Whalen also asserts that eligible voters were unable to vote, either in-person or online.

Whalen claims that a constituent had reached out to him, telling him that the municipality’s website crashed and prevented residents from voting online, as well as preventing potential voters from finding their polling station. 

At 8:17pm, approximately an hour after Whalen received the text from a constituent, the City of Cambridge announced that online voting would be extended past the original deadline of 8pm to 8:30pm. 

Whalen also claims that he personally saw two voters turned away from voting a minute before the polling station closed at 7:59. He claims that the two women who were turned away told the poll workers that they attempted to vote online but were unable to. 

Whalen was also concerned with the scrutineering process during the election. 

Paul Robertson, a long-time election worker and scrutineer, says that the scrutineering process during the Cambridge election was unusual and unlike anything he had ever seen. 

He says that as a scrutineer, he was unable to verify that the voting machines were reset after test voting and that test ballots were not added to the official tabulation. Whalen, who was also a scrutineer during the election, gave a similar account to Robterson’s in his sworn affidavit. 

“I was not permitted to confirm or observe that no ballots were yet cast or that the tabulators were functioning,” reads Whalen’s affidavit.

Two days before the election, the city clerk declared an emergency because two candidates for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board election had been left off of the ballot. Because of this, the city clerk changed the scrutineering process so that scrutineers could not see who voters had voted for in an effort to protect the results of the postponed school board election.

According to Robertson, scrutineers were unable to observe the sealing of unused ballots, the closing of the polls, and were unable to challenge questionably marked ballots. 

“We never got to see the ballots that were rejected by the [tabulation] machine. We got a verbal description of what they looked like, all because they did not want to turn that ballot around and let us see what someone may have put an ‘x’ in the trustee voting box for the Catholic school board election,” said Robertson.

In early December, Whalen requested the City of Cambridge release a series of election records through the 1996 Municipal Elections Act. 

In total, Whalen’s website lists 30 irregularities with the election, none of which has been proven in court.

Whalen attributes the large number of alleged irregularities to negligence, incompetence, and the fact that the 2022 election was the city clerk’s first time managing an election.

“There was definitely some negligence and in my opinion there’s definitely some incompetence here,” says Whalen. 

Councillor Reid says that she would be “very surprised” if there were any irregularities in the 2022 Cambridge election.

“I would be very surprised to find there were irregularities. I have a lot of faith in our clerk’s department, and they work extremely hard to make sure that everything is done according to the statues.”

The City of Cambridge declined to comment as the case is before the court.

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