Green Party MLA Megan Mitton is criticizing the results of an investigation into the harassment, hostility, threats and intimidation dozens of Mount Allison University students faced as they tried to vote at Sackville’s Civic Centre on Sept. 14, the day of the provincial election.
The member for Memramcook-Tantramar says a report released earlier this week by Elections New Brunswick doesn’t go far enough to make sure that what she terms “voter suppression tactics” won’t happen again.
“The seriousness of what happened on election day does appear to be lost in this summary report,” Mitton said in a telephone interview. “Voters’ rights were being compromised, they felt like they were under attack,” she added, “and we can’t take that lightly.”
The Elections NB report summarizes the findings of independent investigator Jacques Ouellette.
It suggests that confusion, misinterpretation and contradictory information resulted in election workers challenging students’ eligibility to vote based on the rule that they must have lived in the riding for 40 days.
The law states that students who attended university in the previous academic year are considered local residents and are eligible to vote even though they may have been away for the summer.
Among other things, the report says poll workers need better training about the residency requirements while political scrutineers need to be reminded about their proper role and behaviour at polling stations.
The report singles out an unidentified scrutineer for challenging the proof of residency letters Mount Allison provided to returning students who live on campus.
“One of the scrutineers present at the poll, who should not have directly engaged with electors, incorrectly told some students the letter was not acceptable as proof, and they could be committing voter fraud if they voted,” the report states.
Mitton says that in spite of such findings, she’s far from satisfied with the report.
“I am glad to see all of the recommendations about improving the education and the training of poll workers,” she says.
“However,” she adds, “there doesn’t seem to be consequences for the scrutineer or anyone who interfered with voting and Elections NB ultimately is responsible for making sure the election is fair and this should not have been allowed to happen.”
Mitton says the process for making complaints about interference with voting didn’t seem to work on election day.
“There were still voters being denied the right to vote at 7:59 p.m.,” she says. “What’s to keep this happening again if there’s no consequence for this type of behaviour?”
Elections NB launched its investigation after complaints from the Mount Allison Students Union.
President Jonathan Ferguson says members of the MASU executive committee are generally happy with the Elections NB report.
“They’ve clearly outlined some actions to be taken and we approve of these actions,” he says referring to Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth’s pledge to implement better training of poll workers.
He also said he’s pleased with Poffenroth’s comment in the report that the fixed date for the next provincial election is October 21, 2024, which would allow more time in the fall university term to reduce any confusion over the 40-day residency rules.
At the same time, Ferguson acknowledges that students did face hostility from poll workers and inappropriate behaviour from one scrutineer.
“We are hopeful that this promise here to review the [election] materials and really go back to the drawing board about what poll workers are being trained to do will help address that,” he says.
To read the summary report from Elections NB, click here.
To read in-depth coverage from CHMA reporter Erica Butler about what Mt. A. students experienced on election day, click here.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared on Nov. 30, 2020.