Proposed election law changes in Nova Scotia include limited electronic voting

Nova Scotia's justice minister introduced a bill Friday to make more than 40 changes to the province's Elections Act.

Speaking to reporters after tabling the bill, Mark Furey said the bill would "make it easier for Nova Scotians to vote in provincial elections and better support those who wish to serve their communities and fellow citizens by running for office."

One of the proposed changes would be to allow electronic voting. But Richard Temporale, the province's chief electoral officer, said that would be restricted to Canadian Forces personnel serving out of province.

He said it is part of his plan for 2021 when the next provincial election could be held.

'A lot of work to be done'

"[It] means there's a lot of work to be done," said Temporale. "We have to pin this down with the Armed Forces.

"It has to be from a closed system to a closed system, so until that actually happens I'm not going to say it's going to happen. I'm hopeful that it'll be there by April 1, 2021."

According to Temporale, 210 Forces members requested ballots in the last general election, but only 10 were actually returned and counted.

To encourage more parents and people who have a disability run for office, the proposals would allow candidates to be reimbursed for child-care expenses, spousal care, elder care and expenses in relation to a disability that were incurred during an election.

Those changes are being applauded by MLAs Claudia Chender and Speaker Kevin Murphy.

'It's about time'

Chender, one of 15 female provincial representatives, said it should help more women run for office.

"I think it's about time," she said. "It's absolutely important in terms of levelling the playing field that they have the ability to offset some of those expenses when they're running a campaign."

Murphy, Canada's only Speaker in a wheelchair, is also happy to see the changes.

"We need more representation from the disability community in elected office, at all levels of government," he said.

"And there is obvious challenges for people with disabilities to take on this kind of workload and an irregular schedule, so anytime that we can improve the opportunity to support people with disabilities to seek elected office, I think that's a good thing."

Robert Short/CBC

Although Temporale had recommended changing the law to prevent voting before the close of candidate nominations, that change is not included in the amendments. He recommended early voting begin two hours after nominations close.

Last fall, in the lead up to a byelection in Northside-Westmount, the Nova Scotia PCs switched candidates before nominations closed. It led to confusion about what to do with votes cast for Danny Laffin, the dropped candidate who went on to run as an Independent.

Ballot shuffle

Elections Nova Scotia redistributed those ballots between Laffin and Murray Ryan, the new PC candidate.

Furey said the fact it was resolved by the chief electoral officer to everyone's satisfaction, and that it was a rare occurrence, meant it was not something that needed a legislative change.

"It was an isolated case," he said.

Other amendments include making it optional for voters to state a gender and requiring a candidate to provide a rationale for seeking a judicial recount.

Another amendment would allow a candidate or their spouse to vote in the electoral district where they are running during a byelection even if they don't reside in that district.

MORE TOP STORIES