John Steins will not go quietly.
Dawson City’s mayor, who lost by seven votes to Peter Jenkins in yesterday’s election, plans to appeal the results and is seeking legal advice.
“I haven’t conceded,” he said.
But it’s unclear what options will be open to Steins.
The territory’s judiciary has in the past been loathe to intervene in elections. And the dispute is largely a byproduct of Yukon’s flimsy election rules, which do little to filter out illegitimate votes.
Ballots are essentially cast on an honour system, without voters having to produce identification or proof of residency.
Steins isn’t alleging voter fraud. But he says he expects some Yukoners who live beyond Dawson City’s boundaries voted, perhaps without knowing they were ineligible.
Residents who live in outlying neighbourhoods are disenfranchised at a municipal level, which, Steins admits, seems unfair.
“It must be totally frustrating to be someone who lives in West Dawson, for example. You can’t take part in the democratic process because you live a few feet outside the boundaries.
“Yet they’re just as involved and committed and engaged in the community as everyone else.”
With a population of about 1,300, Dawson City is still small enough to easily ascertain whether voters live within town limits, said Steins.
“If you can look at a name and say, ‘He lives in Rock Creek,’ then obviously he shouldn’t have voted,” he said.
Neither candidate had a scrutineer, whose job is to examine the votes during an election. This, Steins admits, was a big oversight.
“That would be the only weak point of my argument,” he said.
And he concedes that ineligible ballots may, in fact, benefit him, rather than his rival.
It was a tight race. Elections officers spent about an hour and a half conducting recounts Thursday evening, with results tipping in either candidates’ favour, said Steins. In the end, the count showed 260 ballots for Steins, and 267 for Jenkins.
The fight to be Dawson’s mayor was the most colourful match-up in Yukon’s municipal elections.
In one corner was Steins, an artist by trade who has held the mayor’s job since 2006.
During his term, Steins has never been shy about expressing his opinions, no matter how inflammatory, such as allegations that Dawson gas-station owners are price-gouging their customers.
In the other was the reticent Jenkins, a political heavyweight who was Dawson’s mayor for 14 years before becoming the Klondike’s MLA for a decade.
At one point, Jenkins was Yukon’s deputy premier, before having a nasty falling-out with Dennis Fentie’s Yukon Party government, after which he decided to sit out the 2006 election.
Jenkins, who was unavailable for comment before press time, ran a campaign in which he argued that Dawson City still hadn’t recovered from its past financial woes that led the Yukon government to oust its council and administration in 2004, after the territory found the city deep in debt and a report alleged that the mayor and administration misspent nearly $200,000.
But much has changed since then, said Steins.
Dawson now has about half a million dollars in the bank and close to $3 million in reserves.
“When we came into office, there was nothing there,” he said.
And the city has managed to woo infrastructure money from the territorial government to fix up the recreation centre and build a sewage-treatment plant.
While dismissing Jenkins’ platform as “not compelling whatsoever,” Steins concedes that Jenkins still holds powerful sway in Dawson.
“I think there’s a Jenkins chip in a lot of people’s brain,” Steins said, chuckling, “who will vote for him no matter what.”
“People voted out of loyalty to him.”
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