That was then: Voting irregularities, inaccurate counting at polls. Sound familiar?
A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today, a vote recount in 1921.
Following a hard-fought election decided by the thinnest of margins, friends of the second-place finisher convinced him to challenge irregularities surrounding the vote count. Ballots cast for him, it was claimed, were actually improperly added to his opponent’s total, perhaps enough to change the outcome. And so a manual recount was demanded.
Sound familiar? It should; it happened right here in Ottawa, exactly a century ago, when voters in the Jan. 3, 1921, municipal election chose Frank Plant, by a six-vote margin, to be their next mayor. The official count was announced as 7,830 for Plant, to Joseph Kent’s 7,824.
It was, the Citizen reported, the most closely contested election in Ottawa’s history. “The result was in doubt to the very last poll, which happened to be one which reduced (Controller) Plant’s lead by 110.
“On Monday night there was some doubt as to the figures being accurately totaled but the revised figures today leave the majority then announced, six, unchanged.”
One headline the following day summed up Kent’s unclear position: “MR. KENT TALKING OF PROTEST, BUT ISN‘T QUITE SURE.”
Kent had three options: to accept the results; to challenge the election; or to ask for a recount. He eventually chose the latter, indicating he had “received reports alleging irregularities in some of the polls in different parts of the city.” Further pressed, he said only, “I am not prepared to make these public yet. But they are sufficient to justify the action which I intend to take.”
Kent submitted his affidavit and required $25 fee (about $1,300 today), and the recount began that Saturday, five days after the election, with Judge Gunn presiding. The room where the recount was conducted was closed to the public. Only Gunn, the two candidates, their lawyers and some news reporters witnessed what was obviously not a particularly speedy process. The Citizen that evening indicated that the count was only about one-third completed, but that Plant’s lead had increased by six votes, to 12.
As the count continued Saturday night, past press time, Plant’s lead grew to 28, but by Monday it had shrunk to 21. The Citizen’s headline on Monday hinted at the tedious process of both ballot counting and headline writing: “KENT REGAINED SOME LOST GROUND TODAY; PLANT’S MAJORITY NOW 21; CLERICAL ERRORS IN SEVERAL POLLS” noted the front-page headline, with the sub-headline offering this bit of convolution: “In This Morning’s Count of Polls in Victoria and Dalhousie Wards Kent Gained 5, Lost 2 and Had 3 Ballots Reserved. Plant Gained 2, Lost 4 and Had 5 Reserved. 92 Boxes still to be Counted.”