Right from the beginning of Monday, Mount Allison Students’ Union says it was getting emails and calls from students who said they were turned away at a polling station.
“Students were showing up with their leases and IDs who are New Brunswickers and were still being told that they couldn’t vote,” said Jonathan Ferguson, president of the students’ union. “Everything that was happening was insane.”
He said the union is calling it what it is: “total voter suppression.”
Ferguson said that if you’re on the electors’ list, you can vouch for somebody. But according to Ferguson, workers at a polling station would only allow students to vouch for only one person.
Yet even if that latter interpretation of the voting rules was correct, Ferguson said he discovered there was some confusion.
“I went at the end of the night — my roommate was one of the last people to vote — and they let me vouch a second time. So the rules were inconsistent all over the place,” he said.
“Those who were able to vote — ultimately, many of them had to come back three or even four times to be able to vote.”
Ferguson said this happened to dozens and dozens of students — “if not hundreds” — before the polling stations closed at 8 p.m. AT.
“What happened (Monday) was wrong and it was a mess,” he said, adding that he hopes Elections New Brunswick continues to look into the situation “because what happened is frankly embarrassing for them.”
A spokesperson for Elections New Brunswick, Paul Harpelle, told Global News on Tuesday that it has determined that the confusion was with poll workers who were misinterpreting and misapplying the rules as they relate to the residence status of students who were returning to New Brunswick to continue their studies from outside of the province.
Harpelle explained that just because a returning student went to their home province to study or to potentially work for the summer doesn’t mean they have interrupted their ordinary resident status, and so they are eligible to vote.
“This was not understood by the staff at that polling location,” he said. “So the chief electoral officer immediately called the officer in that riding to go to that polling station, and they were corrected.”
Harpelle said that Elections New Brunswick believes part of the issue is that in the past two elections, there have been locations at a number of university campuses in the province, and the people who worked on those locations were fully trained and better understood the challenges that student voters face.
This particular polling station was off-campus.
“We think because this was an off-site polling location with people who probably did not work on campus before. They just did not understand the rules. And so that’s what had to be corrected.”
Ferguson said students were distressed and they felt patronized as a result of being wrongfully turned away.
“Some of these students are first-time voters that had to go to the polling station and fight for the right to vote. What does that say about democracy in New Brunswick and in Canada? This is the first time they’re voting and they’re basically saying this is incredibly arduous and a painful experience and that this is just reprehensible.”