New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer seeks to modernize electoral regulations

New Brunswick Chief Electoral officer Kimberly Poffenroth looks on ahead of signing the writs for the Sept. 24 provincial election in Fredericton on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. The Canadian Press/Kevin Bissett

New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer is looking to modernize the province’s electoral regulations.

On Tuesday, Kim Poffenroth tabled a discussion document before members of the province’s standing committee on procedure, privileges and legislative officers.

“A number of these recommendations will ring familiar, especially with those stakeholders who have been part of the political landscape over the past decade,” said Poffenroth.

“Some recommendations will require the political will to relinquish long-standing practices that favour the governing party.”

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The document contains 108 recommendations which propose amendments to three pieces of legislation: New Brunswick’s Elections Act, Political Process Financing Act and the Municipal Elections Act.

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Poffenroth is urging the elimination of the political appointment of the 49 returning officers who administer both the provincial and municipal elections.

Currently, the government has the ability to appoint returning officers, giving the party in power the ability to choose its own supporters to fill the position in the year leading up to a campaign.

This results in a number of complaints to Elections New Brunswick.

The discussion paper points out that only New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island currently use the political-apointee model.

Poffenroth is instead recommending the establishment of an independent competitive hiring process to recruit those returning officers. The paper says this would allow for bias or even the perception of bias to be removed from the process.

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Some of the other recommendations include:

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  • Eliminate the restrictions on advertising on the day before the election and the day of the election itself.
  • Require that a byelection for the legislature be held within six months of the seat becoming vacant.
  • Allow voting by mail for municipal byelections and plebiscites held between general municipal election days.
  • Require any party that wants access to the Elections New Brunswick voter list to submit a privacy policy on how it will protect that information.
  • Allow a judge to draw a name of one of the tied candidates when an election and a recount ends in a tie.

Elections New Brunswick will review recommendations from the committee as well as any interested stakeholders. That will help them to form the final recommendations that they’ll submit to the government for modernizing legislation.

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