Elections Yukon said Monday it is investigating accusations of electoral shenanigans in two Whitehorse-area ridings.
The RCMP are investigating claims that Tamara Goeppel, the Liberal candidate in Whitehorse Centre, violated the Elections Act by misusing proxy ballots. In a statement, Elections Yukon said “it appears that an offence, or offences under the Elections Act, have occurred.”
Goeppel got in trouble after admitting she helped 10 homeless people fill out proxy ballots so that someone else could vote on their behalf.
She has insisted she was trying to help a disenfranchised population, who don’t usually get to the polls, exercise their democratic right to vote. Under Yukon law voters can have someone else vote on their behalf. They can even ask a political party — as was done in these cases — to appoint someone to vote on their behalf.
But proxy ballots are meant for people who will be outside of the territory on election day.
The police involvement was enough for NDP Leader Liz Hanson — one of Goeppel’s competitors in the Whitehorse Centre riding — to call for Goeppel to withdraw from the election.
“The only right thing to do is for this candidate to step aside. If she will not step aside, I call on (Liberal Leader) Sandy Silver to do the right thing and withdraw his support for this candidate,” she said.
Hanson took issue with Goeppel’s claim that many of the people she spoke with don’t know where they’re going to be on election day. In an interview with the News last week, Goeppel said someone told her they “might be at the bottom of the river.”
“I’ve lived in Whitehorse Centre for some time, and know many of the people that this candidate is talking about,” Hanson said.
“When they say things like that, that they may end up at the bottom of the river next week, my first impulse is not to grab a proxy ballot. It’s wrong.”
While the Yukon Party did not call for Goeppel’s removal, they didn’t miss the opportunity to take a swipe at the Liberals.
“Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is faced with a decision to either support his campaign chair and disavow the unethical tactics being used, or continue to support his star candidate’s use of these tactics and her public criticisms of Elections Yukon,” Yukon Party campaign chair, Currie Dixon said in a statement.
In separate interviews last week, Liberal campaign chair Laura Cabott acknowledged what Goeppel did was wrong, while Goeppel would not guarantee that she would return the proxy ballots.
Goeppel did not respond to an interview request yesterday.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver refused to answer questions about the situation at a campaign announcement Tuesday.
“This is in front of an investigation right now and so we are talking with the elections office and after that conversation is concluded we’ll have a statement on that,” he said.
Following the announcement the Liberals did issue a statement.
“Tamara was well intentioned and genuine in her desire to help vulnerable people vote,” the statement said. “The Yukon Liberal Party takes all matters related to the electoral process seriously. All candidates have been properly trained and advised on the proper use of special ballots and proxies, to ensure that all eligible Yukoners can exercise their right to vote.”
This is the last election that proxy ballots will be used in the Yukon thanks to amendments to the Elections Act passed last year.
After Monday’s election, only special ballots, which can be cast anytime, but must be cast by the voter, will be available to people away on election day.
Hanson said an NDP government would take things one step further and ensure special ballots are not handled by political parties or their volunteers, only by non-partisan election officials.
The same set of amendments that are doing away with proxy ballots also changed the way people without ID can vote this election.
Now, if a voter can find someone to confirm their identity, they will get a ballot.
Hanson said she thinks enough is being done to help disenfranchised people vote.
“I think that what we’ve heard is the discrediting of the very valuable work of the chief electoral officer and her staff as well as the people that work with street-involved people.”
Meanwhile there’s no word whether any of this will actually be sorted out by election day. The Yukon RCMP confirmed that it was investigating the allegations but wouldn’t say how long that might take.
It seems unlikely Goeppel’s name could be taken off the ballot even if the Liberals chose to disavow her. The ballots have already been printed.
According to Elections Yukon, 5,284 people voted in advanced polls on Sunday and Monday. That’s compared to 2,827 people in the 2011 election.
The 10 proxy forms that Goeppel collected could have been cast on those days.
Once ballots are cast, there is no way to pull them back, said assistant chief electoral officer Dave Wilkie. Staff at the polls have been reminded to be vigilant and make sure proxy ballots are used correctly, he said.
Staff question every person trying to cast a ballot on behalf of someone else. If they’re not satisfied the rules are being followed they can refuse to issue a ballot.
“‘Do you know if the person that you’re voting for is out of the territory during the advanced polls and the election day?’ That’s the principle question that has to be asked,” he said.
Wilkie said he’s confident in the staff’s ability to weed out inappropriate ballots and is not worried about the validity of the election in Whitehorse Centre.
Meanwhile Elections Yukon is still investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the Mountainview riding.
Accusations there have ranged from taking intoxicated people to the polls to vote to telling people it is Election Day when it’s not. No specific political party has been named.
Wilkie expects to have a statement on that situation by the end of the week.
Mountainview is currently held by Yukon Party Leader Darrell Pasloski, who is being challenged by Liberal Jeanie Dendys and the NDP’s Shaunagh Stikeman.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org