Thebacha vote upheld
Miltenberger can keep seat

NNSL (Mar 28/97) - Michael Miltenberger can keep his seat in the legislature, the NWT Supreme Court has ruled.

The 65-page decision was handed down yesterday by Justice John Vertes.

Vertes ruled there were no allegations or suggestions of illegal or corrupt activities by any candidate. Nor were there any suggestions of improprieties or negligence by election officials.

During the October 1995 territorial election, Miltenberger was declared the victor in the Thebacha riding with 607 votes, 36 more than the incumbent, Jeannie Marie-Jewell. Two other candidates were far behind.

The next month, 55 voters asked the court to declare the election invalid and order a new vote.

The central issue was whether 36 or more invalid votes were cast.

The question of the validity of the contested votes rested solely on an analysis of the legal definition of valid proxy votes.

Of 1,396 votes cast, 148 were by proxy from voters -- some faxed in -- and some were forms signed by people when they were simply put in front of them by campaign workers.

Vertes ruled that it appears the election would not have been affected by the 24 invalid proxy votes he found, even though most of the invalid proxy votes would have likely gone to the losing candidate.

Vertes was critical of those who sign blank proxy forms, however.

"One of the greatest attributes of democracy is that a person may chose for whom to vote but may also chose not to vote at all.

"If a person decides not to vote, but then signs away his or her vote simply because someone is opportunistic enough to ask for it, I fail to see what principles we are protecting by not drawing inferences.

"The sanctity of the ballot box can hardly matter to someone who does not even care how his or her vote is cast."

Vertes wrote that this type of proceeding is relatively rare in Canada due to the professionalism with which elections are conducted.

That meant he had to draw precedents from judgments made decades ago when "elections were far more volatile and boisterous affairs."

There are still matters to be resolved, Vertes wrote, one being the question of costs of the action.