Elections NB adds priority mail-in ballot, online portal for upcoming election

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New Brunswick's chief electoral officer, Kim Poffenroth, says changes have been made to certain electoral processes for a smooth municipal election. (Roger Cosman, CBC - image credit)
New Brunswick's chief electoral officer, Kim Poffenroth, says changes have been made to certain electoral processes for a smooth municipal election. (Roger Cosman, CBC - image credit)

Elections New Brunswick will now provide voters with priority mail-in ballots this spring to try to make the second election during the COVID-19 pandemic go more smoothly.

After a year-long deferral prompted by last March's lockdown, and the province's agency in charge of elections has been working to make some quick and effective changes before votes are cast May 10.

"We know there were a few challenges during the last election, so with a limited amount of time between elections, we tried to identify those things that would have the greatest impact that could be achieved easily," Kim Poffenroth, New Brunswick's chief electoral officer, told Information Morning Saint John on Tuesday.

Mail-in ballots used to come with a postage-paid return envelope. Now, Poffenroth said, Elections NB will provide a priority courier return envelope with a pre-printed waybill that can be brought directly to the post office.

She said that change was made to "speed up the process," and urged voters to take advantage of the mail-in ballots to avoid congestion at polling stations.

All eligible voters who are not yet registered can now quickly register to vote using an online portal, said Poffenroth.

Voters were previously required to print off the registration form and mail it in, but now they can just register entirely online.

"We know a lot of people have access to the internet, either through a smartphone, tablet or a standard computer, but what we found in September is a lot of people didn't have access to a printer," she said.

Poffenroth said New Brunswickers can now easily register to vote for the upcoming municipal election using a new online portal.
Poffenroth said New Brunswickers can now easily register to vote for the upcoming municipal election using a new online portal. (CBC)

In the 2016 municipal election just 34.5 per cent of the eligible population voted, and Poffenroth said the goal is to see a larger voter turnout with these changes.

She said the turnout is much lower than provincial elections and varies widely across municipalities.

Poffenroth said, for example, in the last municipal election there was one municipality that saw 13 per cent voter turnout and another with an 80 per cent turnout.

Stand up and run, Poffenroth says

Aspiring candidates have until April 9 at 2 p.m. to file nomination papers.

Poffenroth said of the 717 positions up for grabs in the election, 397 have only a single candidate or no candidate at all.

So far, Saint John is the only municipality in New Brunswick that has more than one candidate for every position on the ballot.

"There won't be an election unless people stand up and run for those positions," said Poffenroth.

Legislative changes for pandemic purposes

A new mandate was put in place last week that requires the delay of certain electoral processes in case a region is put into lockdown because of COVID-19.

Legislation was introduced on March 19 called the "Act Respecting Municipal General Elections in 2021", which allows the chief electoral officer to modify election processes during a state of emergency.

"That legislation applies to any state of emergency (in the province), but certainly the amendments were made in contemplation of the elections being held during the global pandemic," said Poffenroth.