Former territorial Liberal candidate Tamara Goeppel must pay a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Elections Act for improperly helping people fill out proxy voting applications during the 2016 election.
Territorial court judge John Faulkner delivered the sentence the morning of Aug. 29, the day after Goeppel, on the second day of what was to be a week-long trial, abruptly pleaded guilty to one count of “aiding or abetting persons in making proxy applications that were not in accordance” with the act.
Faulkner accepted the joint sentencing submission from the Crown and defence, saying that while Goeppel appeared to have genuinely wanted to help disenfranchised people vote, and that the literature provided by Elections Yukon on proxy voting was confusing, good intentions and confusion do not justify breaking the law.
“Our democracy is a precious thing and it must be carefully guarded and maintained,” Faulkner said.
The Crown withdrew two other charges against Goeppel — another count of helping someone make a proxy application voting application and one count of inducing someone to make a false declaration (in this case, whether the person would be in the territory on election day).
Goeppel had initially pleaded not guilty to all three charges, which related to her conduct in the 2016 territorial election when she running against the NDP’s Liz Hanson in the Whitehorse Centre riding. She ultimately lost the election by 55 votes.
According to an agreed statement of facts read out by Crown attorney Leo Lane earlier this morning, in the two weeks leading up to election day in 2016, Goeppel approached “a number” of people in downtown Whitehorse and helped them fill out proxy voting applications.
She did so without verifying whether they would be out of the territory during voting hours, a requirement for participating in proxy voting and something stated on the application form.
Elections Yukon and, later, the Yukon RCMP, launched an investigation into Goeppel’s conduct after a man called the Elections Yukon office in October 2016 to complain that Goeppel and her campaign manager had solicited him at his home.
The RCMP laid charges against Goeppel in February 2017.
“Your honour, democracy depends upon elections that are transparent and impartial,” Lane told Faulkner during the Crown’s submissions, adding that the process not only needs to be fair, but must also be seen as fair.
In this case, Goeppel’s actions were “widely publicized” and would reasonably cause some people to “question the legitimacy of the election,” Lane said, and any actions that undermine trust in the system must be treated seriously.
He noted that Goeppel entered a guilty plea, saved the expense of continuing the trial and spared the Crown the burden of proving its case, which largely depended on witnesses being able to remember signing a piece of paper and having a brief conversation two years ago.
In his submissions, Goeppel’s lawyer Richard Fowler said his client has accepted responsibility for her “mistake.”
“Ms. Goeppel accepts that she was not as careful as she should have been and not as careful as the law required her to be,” he said, but added that others showed a lack of care too — in particular, Elections Yukon, who he produced “extremely poorly drafted” materials that had varying definitions of who was eligible for proxy voting.
Fowler also said that it was clear Goeppel did not act maliciously, but that her passion and genuine desire to ensure that disenfranchised citizens also had the opportunity to vote “overcame her need to ensuring the law was followed.”
“This was not a scheme to corrupt the electoral process,” Fowler said, describing Goeppel as a born-and-raised Whitehorse resident who has an extensive public service and volunteer experience, has worked in and continues to contribute to the mining industry and, in her role as an athlete, has represented Whitehorse and the Yukon nationally and internationally.
The case and coverage have had a “significant impact” on some people’s perceptions of Goeppel, Fowler added, but the guilty plea speaks “incredibly well of her character” and she hopes to continue to participate in public service “to the benefit of the whole community.”
Speaking to media after the sentencing, Fowler again reiterated that Goeppel had made an “honest, well-motivated mistake.”
“More care should have been taken, which is probably the case for many people in many things that they do in their lives, and she paid a price for it,” he said.
Goeppel herself did not speak to media.
Prior to Goeppel’s guilty plea, the court heard from two witnesses during the trial — David Wilkie, Elections Yukon’s assistant chief electoral officer, and Earl MacLeod, a man who Goeppel had filled out a proxy voting application for.
MacLeod told the court that, in October 2016, he had been living at the Chilkoot Inn in Whitehorse and that a woman and a man had knocked on his room door to talk to him about voting.
MacLeod said he told the pair that he didn’t care about the election, and at some point, the woman gave him a form to sign. He testified he knew the form was for voting but that no one explained the specifics of it to him, and that he didn’t remember if he was in the territory on election day.
Shown a copy of the form he signed — a proxy voting application — MacLeod said that portions of it had been filled out by someone else and that he did not recognize the handwriting.
Fowler presented Wilkie a variety of Elections Yukon materials from 2016 that Wilkie agreed all used different language to describe when it was appropriate for someone to participate in proxy voting.
Had Goeppel’s trial proceeded, the court had expected to hear from 10 more witnesses.
In an emailed statement Aug. 28, Premier Sandy Silver, who had previously declined to comment on the case before it was resolved in court, said that he accepted the outcome.
“It is important that our Elections Act is upheld and that the rights of voters are protected,” the email said. “When serious questions are raised about whether a candidate for elected office has followed the rules they must be addressed. Today’s court proceedings have confirmed that the law was broken and I accept those findings.”
The 2016 election was the last time proxy voting was allowed in the Yukon. It’s since been repealed from the Elections Act.
Goeppel has two months to pay the fine, which also comes with a mandatory 15 per cent surcharge.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org