'We're prepared if there's a general election': Elections New Brunswick ready to facilitate voting during pandemic
HALIFAX -- Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, if a general election is called for New Brunswick in August – or six months – it will be expensive, and unlike any other in the province’s history.
“We're prepared if there's a general election, but there's a number of technology changes we would like to pilot,” said New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer, Kim Poffenroth, during a press conference on Tuesday. “There's a telephone voting process to be used during the pandemic to assist those who can't get out to the polls – such as residents in nursing homes, special care homes, even those who are homebound for an illness.”
Poffenroth has a budget of $12 million and says Elections New Brunswick has already spent over $1 million on a warehouse filled with products including masks, shields, hand sanitizer, and stamps to allow for more mail-in ballots.
The organization will require additional staff to work at polling location, but Poffenroth notes there are factors she can control and factors she can’t control.
“We will have masks available for electors, and all of our workers will be required to wear some form of face covering,” said Poffenroth. “But, I will not turn any voter away from the polls for not wearing a mask.”
As for whether or not an election will be held in the fall – or even in August – it remains a mystery.
The Liberals and Green Party say an election would be "irresponsible" amid COVID-19.
‘To be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing [Blaine] Higgs leave,” said Green Party MLA, Kevin Arseneau. “But sincerely, I do not think it's the time right now.”
“It's irresponsible, unnecessary and reckless to hold elections at this time, during a pandemic,” said Moncton Centre Liberal MLA, Robert McKee. “We're still going through a pandemic; we still have a state of emergency, and nothing that we heard today changes our opinion on that.”
Two byelections must happen by October 15. Even if both ridings become Liberal, the party is promising not to go to an election. However, environment and local government minister, Jeff Carr, says an election has to happen at some point.
“It's not up to me to decide if there's be an election this fall or not – safety really has to be the number one thing,” said Carr. “I really wanted to hear from her [Poffenroth] what her thoughts were. She feels confident, but there's a lot of variables as well, with a possible outbreak, when it could happen? May not even be this fall – could be next spring – nobody really knows.”
Meanwhile, in the event there is an election, many party nominations are being held – with Higgs’ scheduled for Saturday.