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.”