New Brunswick’s new voting machines may hinder a person’s right to secretly spoil their ballots in this year’s provincial election, according to a University of Moncton professor.
Elections New Brunswick started using the electronic vote tabulation machines in 2008, but this is the first time the units have been used to count the ballots in a provincial election.
The machines speed up the vote-counting process and are intended to be more accurate.
However, Denis Duval, a University of Moncton professor, said he has a problem with the machines because they beep when a person selects more than one candidate or no candidates on their ballot.
“It not only tells the person working the machine, but the beep also can be heard by people in line waiting to vote,” Duval said.
He said it’s a fundamental right for people to cast their votes in secret, so Duval filed a complaint with Elections New Brunswick in 2012.
The agency told Duval the beeping assures there are no voting errors.
David Owens, the assistant chief electoral officer, said less than one per cent of voters actually cancel or spoil their ballots.
Owens said steps are taken to ensure a voter’s privacy is maintained.
“It's done in a fashion that's very discreet, there should be at least a 10-foot space around the machine so that the voters are not piling up very close to this,” Owens said.
“It's all treated with the utmost discretion.”
The machines will continue to beep for this year's provincial election, but Owens said Elections New Brunswick says changes could be made in the future.
There were 374,902 ballots cast in the 2010 election and 3,160, or 0.8 per cent, of those votes were rejected. While it may small number of total votes, by comparison, 2,275 votes went to independent candidates and 4,363 votes were cast for the People’s Alliance.
Mixed feelings over beeps
Many voters have mixed feelings that the voting machines make sounds — however discreet — when a person casts a spoiled ballot.
"I think it's certainly a violation of my rights, I really do, that's shocking,” according to one Moncton voter.
Other voters felt the number of spoiled ballots reflected a larger problem with the political system.
“If you're corrupting the data essentially by choosing three different people, I believe it should be corrected, you should have to make a choice,” said Derek Martin.
Samantha Burke also said there were broader problems with the number of spoiled ballots.
“I think the fact that someone would mess up a vote is more of an issue than the fact of it not being private,” she said.