Concerns lead Elections NB to make changes to mail-in voting

·3 min read

Elections New Brunswick has changed how they do mail-in ballots for the 2021 municipal election.

Ballots can now be requested using an online portal, instead of a process that involved printing out a form and signing it, which some said presented challenges, said Paul Harpelle, director of communications and outreach for Elections NB. Forms can be signed using an iPad or your mouse, he said.

Also, instead of returning ballots by regular mail, each ballot sent out will contain a courier envelope to ensure a quicker return of ballots in response to concerns about how long a ballot may take to arrive, he said.

Elections NB has already received over 500 requests for mail-in ballots, he said. Ballots will be mailed out beginning April 19, shortly after the close of nominations

Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability NB, said in last year's provincial election the organization heard from Canada Post that ballots mailed a few days before the election might not arrive in time to be counted, something echoed in interviews conducted by the Times & Transcript with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers during the 2020 election.

Shelley Petit lives with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and has other family members with disabilities. She said the problem with the 2020 provincial election was inconsistency faced by those with disabilities trying to vote.

Her 77-year-old mother, who has mobility challenges, never received her mail-in ballot, said Petit, who drove from Fredericton to Saint John to help her mom vote in-person. The polling station had a ramp but no handrails and did not feel stable, she said. Her mother said the negative experience made her hesitant to vote in this election, but Petit is helping by requesting a ballot by mail.

Petit is unsure if her own provincial election ballot, which arrived very close to the deadline after she had to put in a second request, arrived in time to be counted. She said she is encouraged by the new courier envelope system.

Elections NB has had a number of conversations with groups representing and serving people who live with disabilities, said Harpelle, and this time they are working more closely with them to help promote all the options available.

Harpelle said Elections NB is also working to ensure everyone, from election workers to voters, know about curbside voting, a process where someone can cast a ballot from their car. A support person can walk in and ask someone from a returning office to come outside so a ballot can be cast, or a voter can call a returning office to make arrangements in advance of their arrival. Harpelle said Elections NB is making sure all workers are trained to ensure consistent accessible experiences.

Petit said a great move to ensure accessibility would be to have groups representing those with disabilities do a dry run at every polling station.

“Voting is a right not a privilege, and we need to remember that as we talk about locations of returning offices or ways people can vote,” said Flaro.

"It would have been better if it didn't take until 2021 for some of these things to happen," said Petit, while acknowledging Elections NB is learning and improving things now.

Ability NB will be working to offer assistance to anyone who needs it to request a mail-in ballot, said Flaro.

To request a mail-in ballot using the online portal, go to electionsnb.ca. On the right-hand side of the main page go to “Quick links” and click “Vote by mail”. From this page, go to “Quick links” again and click “Online application for special ballot”.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal