2006 Betiñéir v. Chancery (UC)

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Din el Cort Pü Inalt


TROTXÂ BETIÑÉIR
Plaintiff
v.
CANTZELERÏA DEL REGIPÄTS TALOSSÁN
Defendant


Decided
19 July 2006/XXVII

Brief of the ruling
{{{ruling}}}

Opinion of the Court delivered by
Justice Siervicül, joined by Justice Lauriéir
joined by Senior Justice Metáiriâ recused himself from consideration of this case


RULING

STATEMENT

The 14 July general election for the 36th Cosâ was held from 15 June through 14 July 2006. On 18 July 2006, S:reu Trotxâ Betiñéir, citizen of Vuode province, filed the instant challenge against a vote cast on 11 July in the name of S:reu Franz Buchholtz, citizen of Vuode province, and counted by the Secretary of State on 14 July 2006. We find that the challenged ballot was not cast in accordance with the established election rules, and therefore must be excluded from the final tally of votes.

FACTS

On the morning of 11 July 2006, the Secretary of State had a telephone conversation with Sir Fritz von Buchholtz, who informed the Secretary of State, Sir John Wooley, that S:reu Franz Buchholtz was on his honeymoon and would be unreachable until after the end of the election. Sir Fritz told Sir John that he had recently spoken with Franz (also by telephone), and Franz had told him that he wished to vote in the general election for the CLP and for all four ballot measures. On the same day, Sir John petitioned the Cort for an advisory opinion regarding the legality of the proferred vote from Franz.

On 14 July 2006, the final day of the election, the Cort declined to issue an advisory opinion on the ground that no vote had been challenged under the election law. In the absence of contrary guidance, Sir John counted the vote from Franz, applying the principle that all votes cast are presumed to be valid. The instant challenge ensued four days later.

LAW

Talossan general elections are conducted during a period of one calender month, from the fifteenth day of one month during the fourteenth day of the following month. Organic Law, Art. VII, Sec. 3. Article VII, Section 4 of the Organic Law states that during the election period:

(T)he Secretary of State shall in every particular conduct the election according to the election laws in such a manner as a) affords to every citizen the opportunity to cast a vote for the party of his choice, and b) does not discriminate against any party or individual in the collection or tallying of votes. In the absence of a current election law, the Secretary of State shall conduct the election according to the rules under which the most recent general election were conducted.

The Secretary of State "must make public the exact procedure by which he will comply with Section 4, no less than fourteen days before the Balloting Day." Org.7.5. A current election law has been enacted. Section 1 of the Election Law Act, 33RZ15, requires the Secretary of State to prepare an election ballot and make it available on an election web site. Section 2 of the Act states that:

Any citizen of Talossa may vote on the ballot and send it in, by mail, to the Office of the Secretary of State. In addition, the Office of the Secretary of State shall make available telephone and e-mail contact information so voters can cast their votes through those media. Votes posted on Wittenberg shall also be counted.

According to section 3 of the Act:

All votes cast are be presumed to be valid. The validity of any vote may be challenged by any Talossan citizen after it is counted, by presenting the challenge as a case to the Uppermost Cort, with all available evidence. Should the Cort choose to hear the case, and subsequently find that a ballot has been cast or counted illegally, the final vote tally shall be adjusted to disregard the invalid vote. Special attention shall be paid to non-citizens who might attempt to forge ballots in order to interfere with or embarrass Talossa's democratic electoral process.

In accordance with Org.7.5, the Secretary of State posted official election rules on Wittenberg on 22 May 2006/XXVII. specifying the exact procedure by which votes could be cast in the 36th Cosa election. These election rules stated that votes may be cast by mail, telephone, e-mail, or Wittenberg post. Regarding votes by mail, the rules stated that Paper ballots can be returned to (the Secretary of State) at (address omitted) or to Deputy Secretary of State Joel Wood. Regarding votes by phone, the rules stated Votes may be phoned to (the Secretary of State, telephone number omitted) or to Joel. Regarding votes by e-mail, the rules stated Votes may be emailed to (the Secretary of State) at (e-mail address).

ANALYSIS

The election rules adopted by the Secretary of State seem to clearly contemplate that anyone who wishes to vote will either mail a ballot to the Secretary of State or Deputy Secretary of State, call the Secretary of State or Deputy Secretary of State, e-mail the Secretary of State, or post on Wittenberg. Anyone who does not do one of these things has not cast a vote according to the "exact procedure" specified by the SoS pursuant to Article VII, Section 5. In this case, someone did ultimately call the Secretary of State, but it was not the person whose vote was to be cast. Under the terms of the election rules, whichever person does one of the things listed above is the voter. And each citizen is obviously allowed to cast only one vote.

We find nothing in the election law or the Organic Law that would require a different interpretation of the election rules. The election law states that any citizen "may vote on the ballot and send it in, by mail, to the Office of the Secretary of State." According to a plain reading of the text, the citizen who votes is the person who sends it in, and the place he or she sends it is the Office of the Secretary of State. Telephone and e-mail contact information must also be made available "so voters can cast their votes through those media." Nothing in the election law requires the Secretary of State to accept votes cast through an intermediary not employed by the Office of the Secretary of State.

The Organic Law requires the Secretary of State to conduct the election in a manner that "affords to every citizen the opportunity to cast a vote for the party of his choice" and "does not discriminate against any party or individual in the collection or tallying of votes." Also, the procedure used to conduct the election must be the "exact procedure" publicized by the Secretary of State prior to the election. There is no evidence that the election rules, instituted by the Secretary of State without objection, were in any way discriminatory or denied any citizen the opportunity to cast a vote.

Even if the text of the law were amenable to two equally reasonable interpretations (which we do not believe to be the case), allowing the kind of indirect voting at issue here would be contrary to the spirit of the most recent election reforms, and would create a dangerous precedent for future elections. The Kingdom of Talossa is extremely fortunate at this stage in Talossan history that each party's leadership has great faith in the integrity of the other. But this has not always been so, and may not always be so in the future. For this reason the characters of the individuals involved in this case do not enter into our analysis.

In this very election, we were not too far from having a party run by a certain former citizen who was ultimately charged with over three thousand counts of sending forged e-mails to other citizens in a campaign of harassment. In the future could the Secretary of State reasonably accept indirect votes from a member of one party and reject them from a member of another party? Allowing indirect or proxy voting would either open the door to rampant abuse by unscrupulous parties, or force the Secretary of State to make subjective decisions about whose proxy votes to accept, neither of which would be beneficial to the political climate in the Kingdom. Our current election law and "exact procedures" requirement were meant to avoid that kind of situation. "Proxy votes" of the kind in question here have a chequered past. For the sake of preserving public confidence in our electoral process, proxy voting is no longer permitted, except in strict compliance with election rules published by the Secretary of State in accordance with the Organic Law.

CONCLUSION

We find that the challenged vote was not cast in accordance with the election rules. The Chancery shall adjust the final vote tally to disregard the invalid vote, as required by section 3 of the Election Law Act, 33RZ15.