The Federal Court has rejected a bid by the Conservatives to prevent federal election results in a handful of tightly contested ridings from being overturned.
The Tories argued in court last month against an application by the Council of Canadians to support a review of the May, 2011, election results in seven ridings, dismissing it as baseless and having been filed too late.
But in its ruling Thursday, the court found no reason to reject the case – at least not at this stage.
"It cannot be concluded that the applications are 'utterly devoid of merit' so as to warrant their summary dismissal," Madam Justice Martha Milczynski wrote in her decision.
The council alleges the outcome of last year's election was influenced by misleading or harassing phone calls – so-called robocalling – in seven ridings across Canada where Conservative MPs narrowly won their seats.
The court said the case revolves around serious concerns about the integrity of Canada's electoral system.
"Far from being frivolous or vexatious, or an obvious abuse, the applications raise serious issues about the integrity of the democratic process in Canada," Judge Milczynski wrote.
The applicants identified "practices that if proven, point to a campaign of activities that would seek to deny eligible voters their right to vote and/or manipulate or interfere with that right being exercised freely," she continued.
Failure to bring such serious allegations before the courts could shake public confidence and trust in the electoral process, Judge Milczynski added.
The case still has to pass a third hurdle, where the Conservatives intend to argue that the council is meddling to encourage the seven original applicants to bring the case to court simply because the organization doesn't like the Tories.
However, the council's Maude Barlow said she expects to win that court battle as well. "We're feeling quite confident that that will be thrown out, as this is," Ms. Barlow said.
No further court dates have been set, although Ms. Barlow expected the courts will want to proceed quickly.
Voters can legally challenge the results in their ridings. And if a court finds that the outcome of the election would have changed, a by-election can be ordered.
It's rare that such decisions are made, but an Ontario judge this spring overturned last year's election results in the Etobicoke Centre riding, ruling that there were enough suspect votes cast due to clerical errors to warrant sending voters back to the polls. Conservative MP Ted Opitz defeated Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj in the Toronto riding by only 26 votes.
Mr. Opitz appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, which earlier this month reserved its decision after hearing arguments from both sides.
The seven ridings where the results are being contested over robocalls are Don Valley East, Winnipeg South Centre, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Vancouver Island North and Yukon.