New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer says she did not ask the RCMP to investigate “highly inappropriate” behaviour at the Sackville Civic Centre on the day of the September 14th provincial election because there was no indication an offence had occurred under the New Brunswick Elections Act.
During testimony today before a legislative committee in Fredericton, Kim Poffenroth referred to the independent investigation her office comissioned that found a party worker warned Mount Allison students who were qualified to vote that they would be committing fraud if they cast their ballots on election day.
“I could not find a provision under the Elections Act in which that activity was an offence,” the Chief Electoral Officer told Green Party leader David Coon.
“It is admittedly highly inappropriate and not within the acceptable behaviour of a [party] scrutineer,” Poffenroth said. “Anyone is free to make a complaint to local policing authorities about any offence, but based on information I was provided, I had no evidence of an actual offence under the legislation.”
Her answer seemed to surprise the Green leader.
“If that’s not an offence under the legislation, surely you would agree that it should be,” Coon responded.
“Otherwise it opens the door to voter suppression by political party operatives working as scrutineers in the polling stations,” he added.
“What’s to stop any political party from having their scrutineers trying to suppress the vote by giving out improper, false information and otherwise intimidating voters?”
Poffenroth agreed that perhaps the Elections Act needs to be revised.
She referred to Section 108 which hasn’t been amended since 1967. Under the heading Offences respecting undue influence, the law states:
Every person is guilty of the corrupt practice of undue influence who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of, or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, in order to induce or compel any other person to vote for any candidate or to refrain from voting.
“It clearly focuses on physical intimidation using threats, any force, violence and restraint,” Poffenroth said, adding that the party worker’s behaviour violated Elections NB rules which state that scrutineers “may not enter into discussions with voters in the polling area” and “may not do anything that would impede the voting process.”
She acknowledged, however, that Elections NB does not provide the rules to scrutineers, but sends them to the candidates running in the election. They are also available on the Elections NB website.
Aside from the actions of the Liberal scrutineer, dozens of Mount Allison students faced hostile questioning from poll workers, while others were turned away altogether.
And despite interventions by Poffenroth herself and the local returning officer, Mt. A. students continued to face problems voting until the polls closed in the evening.
During the legislative committee meeting today, David Coon suggested that changing the Elections Act to prohibit interference by party workers would be an essential step “to ensure that the right to vote, which is fundamental, fundamental to our democracy, is preserved.”
There appear to be some inconsistencies in the remarks that the Chief Electoral Officer made during her testimony to the legislative committee. First, she states that she could not find a provision under the Elections Act in which the activity in question was an offence, and goes on to state that Section 108 of the Elections Act clearly focuses on physical intimidation using threats, any force, violence and restraint. She then goes on to contradict herself by stating that the party worker’s behaviour VIOLATED Elections NB rules that state that scrutineers may not do anything that would impede the voting process. Why was this violation of the Election NB rules not considered an offence? In response to David Coon’s statement “If that’s not an offence under the legislation, surely you would agree that it should be”, her response was that “perhaps” the Elections Act needs to be revised. Mount Allison students were clearly prevented from exercising their right to vote due to interference from political party scrutineers, and all she can say is “perhaps” the Act needs to be revised? Are we living in a parliamentary democracy or a banana republic?