While he was there, the local Indians were to have their first experience of casting a ballot. The whole procedure was a complete mystery. As the most prominent white man in the community, Garbitt became Deputy Returning Officer.
As Mr. McQuarrie relates, political feelings ran high, but one of the candidates was strongly favoured by the local dominant white people at Sturgeon Lake. The Indians, caring nothing one way or the other, were good targets for indoctrination–but how to teach them, who could not read, the intricacies of marking a ballot? They were duly instructed that they had a choice of candidates. They were to make up their own minds which man they favored, and with the black pencil provided by the returning officer, they were to make an “X” opposite his name. But —
Just in case they might make a mistake, the black pencil would be replaced by two colored ones. If they wanted Mr. A, a blue “X” anywhere on the ballot would be a sure indication, but for Mr. B a red “X” should appear.
When the ballots were counted a courier rode off to Grande Prairie to announce the winning name, and number of votes for each candidate. But the ballot box did not follow, as was customary, to be checked on the routine recount.
Mr. Garbitt’s explanation was simple. The voters found the colored pencils all right in each voting cubicle. Only one was sharpened. Coincidentally, all of the sharpened ones were of the same colour.