Elections New Brunswick has officially confirmed the results of Monday's election, with Brian Gallant's Liberals forming the next government with 27 seats compared to 21 for the Progressive Conservatives and one Green Party seat.
The elections agency has been under intense scrutiny since Monday night after the electronic vote tabulators ran into problems and counting stalled for nearly two hours.
Michael Quinn, the province's chief electoral officer, said the official declarations by riding on Friday confirmed the results as recorded on Monday night.
"The declarations released today uphold and validate the outcome of the unofficial results that were reported on election night,” said Quinn in a statement.
“We remain confident that despite the troubles that occurred with uploading results to the website and media on election night, which caused a delay in reporting the final results, the counting of all votes cast was done accurately and did not change the outcome of the election.”
Elections NB said during the confirmation process, five ballots were discovered that had not been processed through the tabulation machines by poll workers on election night and had been sent back to local election returning offices.
Three of those ballots were legitimate votes for Liberal Bill Fraser in Miramichi, Progressive Conservative Jake Stewart in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin and Fredericton-York Tory Kirk MacDonald. Those ballots were added to the results for those ridings.
The other two newly discovered ballots were from the Miramichi and Fredericton North ridings and were declared spoiled because the voters had marked more than one candidate on the ballot.
There have been calls from candidates and political parties for manual recounts in specific ridings, while others have demanded that ballots in all 49 ridings be recounted.
The Progressive Conservatives expect to apply for judicial recounts in five ridings, each of which saw their candidates lose by fewer than 200 votes.
The Elections Act allows any candidate who loses by fewer than 25 votes to request a judicial recount and will not be required to justify a reason.
Candidates who lose by more than 25 votes can still request a judicial recount, but they will be required to file an affidavit and justify the recount.
The act says a judge may grant a recount if the affidavit from a “credible witness” can show the returning officer improperly added the votes or an election officer or vote tabulation machine failed to count, improperly counted or improperly rejected any votes.
The Progressive Conservatives are also watching five other ridings where the races were close and where there were reports of counting problems.
The test today will be whether there is a gap between the number of ballots issued and the number of ballots cast.
If there's a gap and it's significant, the Tories could use a separate process to challenge the results in those ridings.
The official declarations take place at each of the 49 returning offices so the big picture may not be clear immediately.
But a lot is riding on this process. The Tories would have to overturn the results in only four ridings to put the Liberal majority victory in doubt.
This was the first provincial election where the vote tabulators were used.
Voters placed their ballots into tabulation machines, which scanned and counted the ballot. The problem started with a computer program used to enter the tabulators' results.
The program did not properly replace the manual results that were initially called in from polling stations.
James Hoover, vice-president of Dominion Voting Systems, said earlier this week the computer program in question malfunctioned.
But he said he didn't understand why a number of tests ahead of the election didn't turn up the problem.
Premier-designate Brian Gallant told reporters on Friday morning that if Elections New Brunswick wants to conduct recounts he is fine with that process. But he wants the independent elections agency to handle it.
Gallant also called Tory MLA Bruce Northrup's call for Quinn's resignation a "slippery slope." He said Elections New Brunswick's independence must be respected.
Calls for recounts mount
The calls for recounts, from the likes of Northrup, have not died down in the days after the election.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin confirmed on Friday afternoon that he will be asking for a judicial recount on Monday.
"I'd like to see a count, a manual count, where people can go through, look at the ballots and make sure that they do match the electronic devices that tabulated them," Austin said.
Austin said his decision to petition the court for a recount is not about his personal result, but in order to give confidence in the overall system. He said he believes a manual recount is a "reasonable" request.
"The only way to really clear the air and to restore the confidence is to have a manual count. I don't think that would be a bad idea," he said.
Earlier on Friday, Bronwen Mosher, the defeated NDP candidate in the Fredericton-Grand Lake riding, said she would like to see a manual recount across the province.
“I don’t expect that I would win on a recount, that is not what this is about, it is about the integrity of our voting process,” Mosher said.
“If we don’t have integrity in our voting process, we don’t have democracy.”
Mosher said she has already forwarded her concern to her local returning officer and asked that it be sent to Michael Quinn, the province’s chief electoral officer. As well, she has sent a similar letter to Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas.
Mosher finished in fourth place with 878 votes in Fredericton-Grand Lake. Progressive Conservative Pam Lynch won the riding with 2,403 votes, People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin finished second with 2,377 votes and Liberal Sheri Shannon finished in third with 2,330 votes.
The official Elections New Brunswick declaration in Fredericton-Grand Lake that was released on Friday confirmed the same results from election night.
Mosher said a manual recount is the only way to reassure the public that the electronic system functioned properly.
“The only way to verify that this system is actually working is to count it the old way and then measure that against what the machines are spitting out,” she said.
The vote-counting controversy has dominated the political discussion in the last few days.
But more evidence that the vote tabulator controversy has also become a lasting public memory of Monday's election cropped up on Friday morning.
Fredericton-based Picaroons released a special beer, called the "Tabulator," to mark the event.
The beer is described as, "A conservative extra special bitter that's been dry-hopped quite liberally with an uncountable amount of green hops."