New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer has been asked for her schedule ahead of a potential appearance at the Legislative Officers Committee in order to discuss pandemic induced costs of a snap election.
This comes after Liberal MLA Roger Melanson sent a letter to committee chair Stewart Fairgrieve requesting that Kimberly Poffenroth appear before the committee to detail the additional costs associated with running a general election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Melanson says it would be a chance for Poffenroth to lay out what exactly a pandemic election would look like.
“Not only from a financial perspective, an extra cost, but how logistically and operationally would a general election operate in a pandemic, where people are still worried to go to the grocery store,” Melanson said in an interview.
“I think it’s important that the Chief Electoral Officer comes in front of a legislative committee in a public forum and New Brunswickers can fully understand what does that mean.”
Melanson says he received a prompt response from Fairgrieve who is looking into the possibility of holding a committee meeting.
Elections New Brunswick has already been preparing for the possibility of running an election amidst the pandemic by acquiring PPE and other necessary equipment. Poffenroth says that about $700,000 has already been spent on gloves, masks, face shields and sanitizer.
There will also be extra costs associated with increased staffing needs, that Poffenroth estimates could cost about $250,000.
The 2018 provincial election cost about $12.8 million.
“What we’ve identified is the need for, in every polling location, at least two additional staff,” she said.
“One individual will be assigned to the outside of the polling location just to keep individual apprised of what to expect when they go into the polling location, make sure they use the hand sanitizer when they enter, make sure social distancing is being maintained outside and then there’s an additional poll worker outside who’s going to responsible for disinfecting those high contact surfaces such as the table that people vote at.”
But even if the premier decides against calling a snap election, at least some New Brunswickers will head to the polls this fall.
By-elections in Shediac Bay-Dieppe and St. Croix must be held by October 15, or 30 days before the start of the next legislative session, and it’s possible a third will need to be held in Sussex with longtime MLA Bruce Northrup indicating he plans to retire.
Poffenroth says the by-elections would serve as a chance to test out pandemic-protocols ahead of the spring 2021 local government elections that were postponed by a year as COVID-19 arrived in New Brunswick.
“It would be an excellent opportunity to test the procedures that we’ve put in place, the directions we’ve given to our returning officers to make sure that everything we’re doing to protect our workers and the voting public is working,” she said.
There are also a couple of pilot projects that cannot be rolled out during a general that Elections New Brunswick is hoping to test including telephone voting for vulnerable populations and those who cannot leave their homes.
New technology to reduce the repetitive paperwork handled by poll workers will also be tested during the by-elections.
The new machines would strike electors off on a provincial lists and automatically populate forms with elector information, which would cut down on some of the paperwork mistakes laid bare during the court challenge of the results in Saint John Harbour after the 2018 election.