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No Drive-Thru Voting For N.B. Election, Despite Premier’s Wish

An election has been called in the province for Sept. 14.
A poll worker receives a mail-in ballot from a voter at a drive-thru polling station during the primary election amid the coronavirus outbreak in Miami on Aug. 18, 2020.
A poll worker receives a mail-in ballot from a voter at a drive-thru polling station during the primary election amid the coronavirus outbreak in Miami on Aug. 18, 2020.

OTTAWA — New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer says, despite the premier’s wish, drive-thru voting stations won’t be an option for electors after a snap election was called in the province this week.

Kim Poffenroth, the province’s chief electoral officer, said the agency’s current voting model involves “a lot” of technology and moving that equipment outdoors, such as electronic tabulators, is not being considered for the Sept. 14 vote.

“It’s a legal impossibility in addition to logistically something that requires far more planning and work,” Poffenroth told HuffPost Canada in an interview. “It’s just not something that can be implemented in a 28-day election.”

Drive-thru voting may require legislative change and if not, Poffenroth said, changes to her directive would need to be posted on the Elections New Brunswick site at least 60 days before an election for the concept to come to fruition.

Since the coronavirus pandemic imposed physical-distancing guidelines, election officials have been pushed to think of novel solutions to ensure the electorates’ health and safety.

The N.B. election is the first, provincial or federal, to occur during the pandemic.

Watch: New Brunswickers to head to polls during pandemic as Sept. 14 election called. Story continues below video.

Premier Blaine Higgs repeated his hope for drive-thru voting stations during a press conference Monday after meeting with the province’s lieutenant governor to request a dissolution of the legislature, sparking an election.

It would be an alternative to traditional polling stations where “people drive up, have their IDs and everything,” he said, adding that because of the pandemic, it’s time to “think out of the box.”

To reduce the potential for further transmissions of the coronavirus, Higgs promised no hand-delivered brochures or flyers would be left on people’s doorsteps.

Elections New Brunswick is encouraging electors to “flatten the election curve” by asking those casting a ballot to be mindful of at-risk populations by wearing face masks, following markings, and respecting physical-distancing rules at polling stations.

Each polling station will be staffed with two new positions: an additional constable responsible for controlling the number of people inside each location, and reminding electors to wear masks and follow markings; and a cleaner who will be tasked with disinfecting high-touch surfaces and objects, including writing instruments.

Electors won’t be kicked out for not wearing mask

Electors are also being encouraged to take advantage of early voting options to minimize the risk of crowds and long line ups on election day.

For electors who are mobility-challenged, Poffenroth said arrangements will be made to take a ballot box to people’s cars. This is not equivalent to drive-thru voting, she said.

“It’s not something we can do a large amount of, because we have a limited amount of staff, but that is an option that could be presented to someone that doesn’t want to wear a mask,” Poffenroth said.

Poffenroth confirmed electors will not be asked to leave polling stations if they do not wear a face mask. “No elector will be denied their constitutional right to vote because they refuse to wear a mask.”

Elections Canada, the non-partisan agency tasked with administering federal elections and referendums, put together a working group back in May to mitigate the public health risks of a pandemic-timed election.

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast their ballot in the New Brunswick provincial election at a voting station in Dieppe, N.B., on Sept. 24, 2018.
A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast their ballot in the New Brunswick provincial election at a voting station in Dieppe, N.B., on Sept. 24, 2018.

The federal agency is also limited in the number of changes it can make legislative changes to the Canada Elections Act. Changing the use of seemingly mundane objects, such as providing pencils in voting stations, would require new legislation because federal law stipulates those pencils must be there.

Shifting from in-person to mail-in ballots for a federal election would also require new legislation.

But in New Brunswick, mail-in voting will be an option next month.

Ballots sent through the mail must be returned to the returning office from which they were issued no later than 8 p.m. local time on election day.

Telephone voting will also be piloted in the province for members of vulnerable populations unable to leave their homes.

Elections New Brunswick says it is confident it has secured more than enough personal protective equipment, including face masks, gloves and shields, for its workers to safely administer an election during a public health pandemic.

Poffenroth said the next challenge ahead for the agency is recruitment.

“Our workers tend to be in the older, more vulnerable group so that may prove a challenge,” she told HuffPost. She said she remains hopeful other New Brunswickers will step up and apply for the paid jobs.

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