Turnout overwhelms Métis advance poll organizers

Matt
Matt Gardner
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The first Métis Nation Saskatchewan election under new organizers MNP got off to a shaky start on Saturday.

Surprisingly strong turnout at advance polls for the Métis Nation election on Saturday led to long lines and waiting times at the Forestry Centre on Central Avenue, as election officials scrambled to obtain additional ballots.

Stronger-than-expected turnout at advance polls and a relatively small number of ballots led to long lines and wait times while MNP hastily drove in more ballots from its Saskatoon office. Prospective voters grew frustrated as they stood in line for hours.

“Our expectation for the advance poll was to have a lot less significant turnout,” MNP chief electoral officer Ian Craben said. “And for whatever reason — and it’s all good, I mean, it’s nice to see a big turnout — but absolutely, it was a lot more turnout than we expected for an advance poll.”

Sherry McLennan, a representative of Prince Albert Métis Local 7 president Felix Mathieu, arrived at the Forestry Centre on Central Avenue when the polls opened at noon. She stood in line for almost two hours waiting to cast her vote.

“They only had one desk where you could vote,” McLennan said. “You have to go in and you have to register and there’s about four people that you have to see, and then you get a ballot, and then you’ve got to go behind a thing and vote, and it’s one person at a time.”

A little after 3 p.m., voting was closed for 25 minutes. The line swelled to a nearly a hundred people, and many voters were discouraged by the mere sight of it.

“There’s a lineup out the door,” McLennan reported at the time. “A lot of the people have left because … it’s a long weekend. People want to get out to the lake. It’s crazy there, and people are angry — very, very angry because of the process that’s involved.”

MNP, an accounting and consulting firm previously known as Meyers Norris Penny, initially provided only 100 ballots for the advance poll, assuming that would be sufficient until the main poll this Saturday. Not all voters can make the latter date, but MNP clearly underestimated the eagerness of the electorate.

We certainly apologize for not being able to anticipate it better and staff up for it. Ian Craben

“People are looking for a change in our Métis nation,” McLennan said. “They’re wanting to get in there … and voice their opinion by the votes. So there were a lot of people that wanted to get in on the advance polls, but it was ridiculous because it was such a long wait. We had our Métis elders … standing in line. We had some of our people that were disabled, and there’s no place for them. They’re all standing in line waiting to get in there because it’s such a long process.”

This isn’t the first time chaos has reigned at Métis elections. Voter frustration partly stemmed from the fact that past elections have seen similar confusion, and MNP was hired specifically to provide a more organized approach.

“This is the first election we’ve done, so I can only speak to the one that we’re familiar with,” Craben said. “It’s not something that we’ve been provided with information to say that we should put a lot more staff on an advance poll.”

Craben indicated that the company would take its experience this election into account when planning for the next one.

“We certainly apologize for not being able to anticipate it better and staff up for it,” he said. “It’s a learning lesson and we appreciate the voter enthusiasm. That’s always a good thing.”

Organizations: Meyers Norris Penny, Forestry Centre

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Central Avenue

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  • Stewart Martin
    September 10, 2012 - 22:09

    We need to get the ballot boxes back out to the local levels like they used to be. Why do we have poor voter turnout? There are a few reasons but we used to have many more voters turn out when they did not have to drive like now. We need to remove the barriers not create them.

  • Wendy Grenier
    September 09, 2012 - 10:24

    FYI - the mans name is Ian Craven, not Craben