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Progressive Conservative Candidate Gila Martow (L) and her son, Mitch when arriving to vote for the Thornhill by-election at Wilshire Elementary School in Thornhill, Ontario January 13, 2014. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Progressive Conservative Candidate Gila Martow (L) and her son, Mitch when arriving to vote for the Thornhill by-election at Wilshire Elementary School in Thornhill, Ontario January 13, 2014. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Ontario Liberal victory in Thornhill overturned after data-entry error Add to ...

Gila Martow’s Progressive Conservative campaign team was ready to ring in another victory on election night last week at the Riviera Parque in Concord, Ont. They had ordered a hot buffet spread from The Harvest Room, a kosher catering service in Ms. Martow’s riding, to feed 100 volunteers; set up a cash bar that offered a free glass of kosher wine for revellers; and spent hours decorating the room.

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By the end of the night, most of the food was in the garbage and Ms. Martow was consoling her volunteers. The race in the provincial riding of Thornhill proved to be the tightest in the province and Ms. Martow lost by 85 votes to Liberal Sandra Yeung Racco.

But less than 24 hours later, Ms. Martow was in the mood to celebrate again. After an official tabulation of votes, Elections Ontario officials said Ms. Martow had actually received 85 votes more than Ms. Yeung Racco.

A data entry error on election night had given the seat to a Liberal instead of Progressive Conservative. The incumbent MPP had retained her seat and celebrated by ordering four large pizzas to her house Saturday evening.

On election night, ballots were counted at each polling station and reported by telephone by Elections Ontario officials. But during the process of official tabulation, which occurs in every riding, the Returning Officer reviewed the formally documented results from all the polls in Thornhill and determined a clerical error was made on election night. It turned out 21,868 ballots had been cast for Ms. Martow and 21,783 had been cast for Ms. Yeung Racco.

“This doesn’t happen often at all,” said Andrew Willis, communications co-ordinator for Elections Ontario. He said the tabulation process is a safeguard meant to catch these kinds of minor data-entry errors.

Ms. Martow’s campaign manager called Ms. Martow Friday evening and asked her if she was sitting down.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve been fined,’” Ms. Martow said. “She says, ‘You won.’ ”

Meanwhile, Ms. Yeung Racco has suggested she is not ready to accept defeat.

“We are alarmed at the number of what Elections Ontario deemed to be ‘transposition and minor clerical errors’ that led to this decision,” Ms. Yeung Racco said in a statement posted to her campaign website. “When the results are as close as they were, it is imperative to ensure that every vote was counted properly.”

She wrote that her team will be seeking a judicial recount, in which all ballots are counted again under the supervision of a judge.

Elections Ontario automatically hold judicial recounts in ridings where the race was won by 25 ballots or fewer, but candidates can also request them.

Ms. Martow said she doesn’t think anyone at Elections Ontario should be punished or investigated for the error, but suggested that it might be wise to hold off on calling a winner until official tabulations in races where margins are as tight as hers.

“Somebody actually sent me the picture of the newspaper headline, ‘Dewey defeats Truman,’” she said, referring to the infamous banner headline in the Chicago Tribune the day after Harry Truman unexpectedly defeated Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election.

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