Chief Electoral Officer says she has no authority to investigate whether laws were broken when Mt. A students were turned away from the polls on Sept. 14

Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth

New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer says the investigation into why dozens of Mount Allison University students were turned away from the polls at Sackville’s Civic Centre on the day of the provincial election was strictly for internal purposes and not to determine if there had been violations of the law.

“I actually have no authority to…conduct an investigation with regard to an offence, that’s why this investigation we did was for our own internal purposes, for identifying where there were lapses in the system that we need to correct for the future,” Kim Poffenroth said yesterday during a telephone interview.

She added that it would be up to local police acting on a complaint to investigate possible violations of the law.

Poffenroth was commenting on the release this week of a one-and-a-half page report summarizing the investigation conducted by Jacques Ouellette, the independent investigator Elections NB hired to interview students, poll workers and the riding’s returning officer.

The report suggests that students eligible to vote were challenged and in some cases turned away because of confusion, misinterpretation and contradictory information.

It also singled out a political party scrutineer for telling students they could be committing fraud if they signed an oath declaring they met the 40-day residency requirement in order to be eligible to vote.

Earlier this week, MLA Megan Mitton sharply criticized the report for not acknowledging the harassment, hostility, threats and intimidation Mt. A. students faced at the polling station.

“There doesn’t seem to be consequences for the scrutineer or anyone who interfered with voting and Elections NB ultimately is responsible for making sure the election is fair and this should not have been allowed to happen,” Mitton said.

“I respect Ms. Mitton’s opinion,” Poffenroth responded, “but we took the incident very, very seriously, which is why I asked to have the investigation done and to have all of those interviews done. It’s a very unusual situation for Elections New Brunswick to hire an outside investigator.”

The Chief Electoral Officer says that on election day, she spoke three or four times by phone to the riding’s returning officer as well as members of the Mount Allison Students Union in an attempt to resolve the situation, but adds she’s still not sure why eligible students continued to have problems voting.

“It didn’t even seem to be particularly clear even after the interviews were done as part of the investigation,” she says, adding she believes it was simply because of confusion and a lack of understanding about the how residency rules applied to students.

Poffenroth says Elections NB is committed to providing more training to poll workers and scrutineers before the next provincial election.

When asked if she would release the investigator’s full report, she said no.

“The actual report [is] just a transcript of the interviews that were done with individuals and a summary of those interviews and we’re not releasing that because of privacy issues,” she says.

“We didn’t receive permission from the indivduals to release it.”

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5 Responses to Chief Electoral Officer says she has no authority to investigate whether laws were broken when Mt. A students were turned away from the polls on Sept. 14

  1. Pat Cormier says:

    Students that are here maybe for four years – maybe not that long – should not be determining the outcome of our election – they don’t pay taxes and they have no right to swing the vote that way – vote in their own riding by mail – this is a disgrace and should be stopped – they are gone and we deal with the consequences

    • Shelly Colette says:

      I think the only taxes most students don’t pay are property taxes. We can’t start denying people the right to vote because they don’t own property – that’s a slippery slope toward feudalism.

      • Kelly Alder says:

        I don’t think the issue is not wanting them to vote! It’s more that they can easily vote where there home is, given that they could get mail in ballots. I believe if Sackville was allowed to count them in our population for funding by province then it would be fine to allow them to vote, if they choose to make sackville their home. But what is to stop anyone from simply owning property in a riding or signing a lease, even if not actually living in a area, so that riding can change it’s voting pattern? To me if all you need to do is have a lease signed in any area to allow voting then it is a slippery slope as well. That could open it up to the two larger parties simply stacking this riding to go their way again as well. Basically have a bunch of residents from an area where the vote isn’t in jeopardy sign leases on rentals just to be able to vote, then say they decided against living here after said election and not honoring a lease. I’m sure someone is thinking of this idea if I can come up with it.

      • Kelly, I hear what you’re saying: that we need regulations to determine residency. But we have those regulations already: 40 days determines residency. These students met those requirements (and everyone who tried to turn them away KNEW that they met those requirements – which is a bigger issue, because random people shouldn’t just get to rewrite the law based on what they think it should be).

        You might disagree with those residency requirements, but how long can we realistically require people to live here while denying them the right to vote in their district of residence? Students live here for 3/4 of the year for four years. We usually have elections every four years.

        The 40-day residency requirement isn’t arbitrary – I don’t know what went into that decision. But I’m guessing they were probably weighing the fears of corruption that you’ve mentioned against the right of people to vote in the riding where they reside. Two months rent per vote is a pretty high price to pay for any provincial party, so maybe the 40 days was chosen as a deterrent? I don’t know.

        But at the end of the day, that IS the residency requirement, and the poll workers knew it (especially after Kim Poffenroth called, what was it? THREE times?) And the scrutineer who was trying to scare away voters with tales of voting fraud, he also knew it. (I know he knew it because he worked tirelessly to bring out student votes in previous elections).

        This is not a matter of poor training – it’s feigned ignorance. It’s individuals with power who didn’t want these students voting, and knew that nothing would come of it if they denied these students the right to vote.

  2. Les Hicks says:

    Undergraduate students at Mount Allison are here for four years while obtaining their degrees. In those four years the students who come from outside the province reside in New Brunswick for the majority of each year. Some students were born and live in New Brunswick year round. Amongst Mount Allison’s sources of income, nearly 50% comes from NB provincial grants. Thus, the quality of the education that the students receive depends to a large extent on any increases or decreases in the amount of provincial funding the government decides to allocate to post secondary educational institutions each year. In addition, while living in New Brunswick, the students depend on the provincially funded health care system for their health care. Considering the high cost of obtaining a post secondary degree, and the importance of the quality of health care they receive while here, it seems reasonable to me that these students should have a say in how the provincial government handles it’s budgeting for post secondary institutions and the health care system since it has a direct effect on their lives. For example, Mount Allison students would have been directly affected had Premier Higgs not been forced by public pressure to back down on his plans to turn the Sackville Hospital into a long term care facility this spring. As another example from a different province, Jason Kenny’s Alberta provincial government recently cut it’s funding to the University of Alberta by 11%, an amount that will have a significant impact on the University’s ability to maintain a high standard of education for it’s students.

    Regarding MLA Mitton’s concerns regarding the Elections New Brunswick investigation into the difficulties and intimidation that Mount Allison students experienced when trying to exercise their RIGHT to vote, I agree with her that this investigation appears to be pointless since it does not provide any real answers and does not explain why the returning officer and workers at a polling station that has had post secondary students voting in provincial elections for years should suddenly be so uninformed about the students’ eligibility. According to the Elections New Brunswick website, it has a duty to be prepared for a provincial election after a minimum 28 day campaign period so Higgs’ snap election call should not be an excuse for any confusion.

    The Chief Electoral Officer stated that she has no authority to conduct an investigation with regard to an offence and that it would be up to local police acting on a complaint to investigate possible violations of the law. Considering that our democracy depends on free and fair elections, perhaps it is time, now that Elections New Brunswick has failed to provide answers, for some of the affected students to lodge a complaint with the Sackville RCMP detachment so that this matter can be properly investigated.

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