Published on Tuesday, November 28, 2000 by the Associated Press
Canada Hand-Counts Votes in 4 Hours
by David Crary, Associated Press Writer
OTTAWA - Florida vote canvassers, take note. Within four hours after the last polls closed in Canada's parliamentary election, officials at 50,000 polling stations had hand-counted virtually every one of nearly 13 million paper ballots.

There were glitches, to be sure - an angry voter seized a ballot box in Nova Scotia and threw it into a polluted lagoon. But overall, Canada's federal elections system, which uses no counting machines, had a smooth Election Night.

From Newfoundland to Yukon, across the world's second-largest country, roughly 150,000 election workers fanned out Monday to a far-flung network of polling stations. Even in the biggest cities, no one station serves more than 500 registered voters - most of the officers entrusted with the hand-counting had to handle no more than 300 or 400 ballots.

Pierre Blain, a spokesman for Elections Canada, said the system stresses transparency, with each party entitled to deploy a representative to watch the polling station chief count the ballots.

Any complaints can be registered with national elections officials; recounts are conducted automatically in cases of extremely narrow victory margins.

Though some of Monday's 301 parliamentary races were close, the overall result was clear-cut: Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Liberal Party won its third straight majority government while increasing its seats in the House of Commons from 161 to 173.

Blain, in a telephone interview Tuesday, politely declined to pass judgment on the electoral chaos in Florida, which was compounded by the use of different voting systems in various counties.

``All the democracies must look at their systems themselves,'' Blain said. ``It's not for somebody from another country to look at them.''

``The most important thing is that people must vote,'' he said. ``I'm sure the workers in Florida did their best.''

The Canadian system, in place for a century, uses traditional paper ballots, to be marked with an ``X'' beside the name of the preferred parliamentary candidate. There are no hanging chads, no questions about mechanical snafus.

In Nova Scotia, though, there was little that election officials could do when a man ran off with a ballot box and threw it into a waste-treatment lagoon.

Alexander MacKenzie, who had sought compensation for living near the polluted water, was arrested for the theft, spent Monday night in jail, then was released pending a Dec. 18 court appearance.

The box was recovered with the ballots still legible, but under Canadian law they were discarded because they had been removed from official supervision. The polling station contacted the 125 people who had cast ballots; about 70 returned to vote again.

There were some systematic glitches, as well. At some polling stations, people arrived to find they were not on the list of eligible voters; many were confused even though most were permitted to vote if they had valid identification and spare time to register on the spot.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Elections Canada was the meager voter turnout of 63 percent - the lowest in more than 75 years.

``Everywhere in the world, there seems to be a trend of turnout going down,'' Blain said. ``Our task is simply to make sure there are no impediments for those who want to vote.''

Copyright 2000 Associated Press