N.B. election offers tips for Island

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Paul Harpelle, director of Elections New Brunswick, demonstrates where the media cards are stored on a tabulation machine at a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 at the Elections New Brinswick office in Fredericton.

Electronic counting, close vote, upsets provide great theatre in New Brunswick

There are three things that P.E.I. can take away from Monday’s New Brunswick provincial election — forget about using vote counting machines, remain wary of any fracking proposals, and admit there is a chance that the NDP or Green Party could pull off an upset or two.

There were election observers from most provinces and the federal government on hand for the election, all interested in seeing how vote-counting machines performed. P.E.I. chief electoral officer Gary McLeod is likely having second thoughts about ever having those machines in returning offices across this province.

It was a fiasco at the most critical time Monday night. With the seat count in a virtual tie and five ridings up for grabs with fewer than 100 votes separating the front-runners, the system stopped. The outcome of the election was very much in doubt at 10 p.m. when the wheels came off the supposedly quick, accurate and foolproof electronic counting system. The tabulations of ballots were suspended for almost two hours due to concerns about technical issues.

It wasn’t until 1 a.m. Tuesday that Liberal Leader Brian Gallant claimed victory while Premier David Alward declined to concede until Tuesday afternoon. His concession was quickly followed by his resignation as Progressive Conservative leader, proof that politics is indeed a blood sport.

N.B.’s chief electoral officer, Michael Quinn, said Tuesday morning that the results on the election website were accurate. But given the circumstances, one could not fault Mr. Alward for waiting until he got some assurances that the tally was accurate and he had indeed lost the election.

Mr. Quinn’s comments Monday night that he didn’t know the whereabouts of at least 35 cards carrying vote totals for a number of key ridings caused a lot of concern. Those kinds of comments certainly left the accuracy of the vote in doubt.

Premier Alward had consistently trailed in the polls for more than a year. The margin at one time was 19 points behind the Liberal front-runner Gallant. That margin narrowed to eight points Monday but the youthful premier-elect hung in to win.

A poll conducted Monday indicated that fracking was a key issue for approximately 40 per cent of voters. The issue blew up in areas of the province over the past year with roadblocks, police cars torched and mass arrests. Mr. Alward was prepared to allow fracking to develop an oil and gas industry, and permit the Irvings to increase its logging operations by an additional 20 per cent. The outcome could be viewed as a rejection of development without due attention to environmental concerns.

N.B. voters made history by electing Green Party candidate David Coon in Fredericton South, the first Green Party MLA in New Brunswick. The N.B. result gives hope to P.E.I. Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker who might think he could pull off a similar upset in the right P.E.I. riding when deep-water wells, pesticides, cancer rates and fracking are issues occupying the minds of many Islanders.

And if the Greens can do it, then surely the P.E.I. NDP might have a chance. Leader Mike Redmond is targeting downtown Charlottetown-Victoria Park and former cabinet minster Richard Brown.

Observers leaving New Brunswick this week must wonder how Elections N.B. will explain this debacle in terms everyone can understand. The Conservatives have asked that all ballots be hand counted so it may take several days before all sides are fully satisfied of a fair and accurate count.

It was great theatre Monday despite a failing grade on ‘Vote-Counting 101.’

Organizations: Green Party, NDP, Conservatives

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Fredericton South, Charlottetown-Victoria Park

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  • BM
    September 24, 2014 - 11:27

    The failure of the vote-counting machines brings to the table a very important point in the use of technology to count votes. As far as I'm aware the voting technology was provided by a company called Dominion Voting. This is a company whose business is selling their software and hardware to governments. This is a problem. They're trying to turn a profit, this means their technologies are closed-source and not available for public scrutiny. Ultimately, we'll have to rely on open-sourced technologies for vote-counting in the future. This is the only way to be certain that there is no funny business(not that that's suspected in this case), and the only way that we'll be able to have the appropriate amount of rigour. People shouldn't be scared of technology being used to tabulate votes, they should only be scared of the wrong technology being used.

    • matt
      September 25, 2014 - 14:43

      I have an even better idea, how about sticking with the best "technology" that is the envy of the entire world: handcounting our paper ballots. I am sick of people wanting to constantly put our democracy at risk by replacing people with technology just so we can say we are " modern". Isn't it more important to be democratic, than modern? It is a lot easier to corrupt one or two software engineers than it is to corrupt thousands of hand-counters of ballots across the country. Why even put ourselves in the situation where we face that risk just so that we can say we are being "technological"? Sacrificing democracy for technology is absolutely insane. Germany has already banned electronic elections as unconstitutional due to the fact that the average person does not have the knowledge to verify the veracity of election results when such technology is used, thus they have stuck with the most simple technology possible, the paper ballot and handcounts. We should follow their lead and ban electronic elections.