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Elections watchdog fines ex-PMO staffer for voting in wrong riding in 2021 election

OTTAWA — Canada's elections watchdog has fined a former staffer in the Prime Minister's Office $1,500 for knowingly voting in the wrong federal riding in 2021.
A former staffer in the Prime Minister's Office has been fined $1,500 by the commissioner of elections for knowingly voting in the wrong riding in 2021. An Elections Canada logo is shown on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Canada's elections watchdog has fined a former staffer in the Prime Minister's Office $1,500 for knowingly voting in the wrong federal riding in 2021.

A summary of the notice of the violation on the election commissioner's website says Ayesha Chughtai tried to cast a ballot at the returning officer's office in the Alberta riding of Calgary Skyview on Sept. 2, 2021. 

The notice says she was told she couldn't vote there because she didn't live in the riding. 

The notice says she tried to argue there was a rule allowing someone who moved within the last six months to vote in their former electoral district, but she was told she was wrong.

When she left the office, the commissioner says witnesses heard Chughtai tell staff she would be voting for the Liberal candidate, George Chahal, in an advance poll.

She did so on Sept. 13.

The notice says that Chughtai was volunteering for Chahal at the time, as well as being employed by the Liberal party during the election.

She was also working for the Prime Minister's Office.

Chughtai has posted on Facebook to say that she's aware of the notice of violation.

"I wish to emphasize that at all times I acted in good faith. I continue to this day to own my home in the riding and I incorrectly believed that I was eligible to continue to vote in that riding," she wrote.

"I regret the circumstances and have co-operated with Elections Canada throughout the process."

The PMO did not respond to questions, instead directing questions to the Liberal party.

In a written statement, party spokesperson Matteo Rossi said the party learned of the matter from the online notice on Monday. 

"Any violation of Canada's election laws is completely unacceptable. Everyone must follow the rules governing elections," Rossi wrote. 

He declined to answer any further questions, directing them instead to Chughtai. 

The commissioner of elections says the fact that Chughtai worked for the Liberals and the PMO, along with the fact that she reportedly said she would be voting in the advance poll in Calgary despite being told she could not do so, were aggravating factors in her case.

That increased her fine from the baseline amount of $1,000.

"The failure of those involved in the political process to comply with the rules adopted by Parliament to ensure a fair election can contribute to a loss of public confidence in the integrity of members of the political class, which may, as a result, increase voter apathy," the notice of the fine reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2023.

The Canadian Press