On election day in New Brunswick, seniors living in long-term care homes usually don’t have far to go to cast their votes.
Polling stations are often set up in facilities to ease the voting process, but as the province deals with the possibility of a snap fall election, the risk of sending poll workers into facilities full of vulnerable seniors is not worth taking.
Elections New Brunswick says they will use a tweaked version of the mail-in-ballot system, where applications and ballots will be dropped off at long-term care facilities by hand. But workers in those facilities will see themselves taking an active role in that process.
“What we’re contemplating at this time is modifying our mail-in ballot process so that our special voting officers can take those applications for mail in ballots to nursing homes and other types of long term care facilities,” said Kim Poffenroth, New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer.
“It’s not ideal and we do believe it will put some additional burden on the staff of a nursing home.”
The increased role for nursing home staff, which would normally be filled by family or Elections NB, is not being well received by the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions.
NBCNHU president Sharon Teare says workers were already stretched thin before the COVID-19 pandemic, which itself has had an impact on staffing levels.
“It’s unrealistic, really, and to expect that to happen with an already reduced staffing is crazy,” Teare said.
“Look, we had our issues before COVID. Now to have an election in the midst of a pandemic and to expect it to be fully staffed to accommodate an election, it’s not possible.”
Elections New Brunswick has been approved for a telephone voting pilot project, but that could only be tested in a by-election, not a general.
The opposition Liberals are calling on premier Blaine Higgs to allow two by-elections to take place in Shediac Bay-Dieppe and St. Croix, rather than going forward with a general election.
“There is absolutely no need for a general election, but we have two ridings that have been vacant for almost a year and need provincial representation. The Premier could easily hold these by-elections and permit Elections NB to test their telephone voting system and safety protocols,” said Restigouche West MLA Gilles LePage in a press release.
The plan is also being questioned by Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard.
“I was a bit taken back by Ms. Poffenroth’s comments in committee on Tuesday. The operational responsibilities of staff in our long-term care facilities are to provide protection and care for our residents who live there,” she said in a statement.
“It is not their responsibility to ensure a fair and confidential vote process in a New Brunswick election. That responsibility resides with Elections NB and the Chief Electoral Officer.”