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Voters shun division byelections

Tiny numbers in board polls

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Was it the lowest turnout ever for a school board election in Manitoba -- barely one voter in 100?

Has anyone ever been elected as a school trustee with fewer votes than the 40 with which Jennifer Stefansson won her seat on Manitoba's 14th-largest school board?

The voter turnout was barely one per cent for two byelections held Wednesday in rural wards 2 and 3 of the Seine River School Division, just south and east of Winnipeg.

Voters in Ward 2 cast a total of 72 ballots in St. Adolphe, Île des Chênes, and Lorette, a turnout of only 1.2 per cent, while 104 people in Ward 3 voted in Ste. Anne and La Broquierie, a 1.7 per cent turnout. Another three ballots were rejected, declined or spoiled.

Stefansson won the Ward 2 seat by 40 votes to 32 over Denise Rocan. In Ward 3, Wes Keating prevailed 54-50 over Rose-Anne Weiss.

Only six people cast ballots at École St. Adolphe School, while only seven voted at École Île des Chênes School.

What had initially surprised education officials is that both seats were contested. While Seine River bucked a trend in 2010 by having no acclamations, each of its three-seat wards only drew four candidates.

Ward 1 covers La Salle and the Winnipeg neighbourhood of St. Norbert.

Manitoba School Boards Association executive director Carolyn Duhamel said Thursday she cannot recall a voter turnout that low, or a candidate winning a contested election with 40 votes.

"Acclamations are quite common in rural areas both at school-board and municipal-council levels. Perhaps what is more surprising here is that there was sufficient candidate interest such that both vacant seats were contested," said Duhamel.

"I think it's more difficult when it isn't connected to the broader election in terms of publicity and people discussing elections," Seine River superintendent Mike Borgfjord said from Lorette. The 2010 election drew close to 20 per cent turnout in the division, he pointed out.

In the 2010 general municipal elections, the 311 school board seats across Manitoba were the least contested in memory -- there were 149 acclamations and 11 seats had no one running to fill them, the vast majority of those 160 seats in rural areas. Local boards subsequently filled those vacancies by appointment.

The two Seine River seats became vacant this winter when Jeff Leclerc resigned for personal reasons, and Cindy Fontaine moved to another province.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2013 A11

History

Updated on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 8:56 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Île des Chênes

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