New Brunswick

Voters urged to wear masks and keep their distance at the polls next month

The province will spend an additional $1 million for personal protective equipment and the hiring of extra staff to protect voters against COVID-19 as they head to the polls next month. 

Chief electoral officer explains what voting will look like in a pandemic

New Brunswickers are heading to the polls next month, but things will be a little different. (CBC)

The New Brunswick government will spend an additional $1 million for personal protective equipment and the hiring of extra staff to protect voters against COVID-19 as they head to the polls next month. 

New Brunswick's chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said Premier Blaine Higgs was aware of the extra cost after Elections NB provided a breakdown for government a few weeks ago.

"It's our job to prepare for any election that might happen," Poffenroth said on Information Morning Fredericton on Tuesday. 

In 2018, the total cost for the election was just over $12 million, according to Paul Harpelle, a spokesperson for Elections NB. 

On Monday, Higgs called a provincial election for Sept. 14, the first that will be held in Canada since COVID-19 arrived.

Kim Poffenroth, New Brunswick's chief electoral officer, said her staff has been planning for some kind of election since late March. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Poffenroth said her team is ready.

Elections NB started planning for possible byelections, municipal elections and a provincial election in late March, after New Brunswick was already seeing cases of COVID-19. The planning included ordering cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

"We're well-stocked in that regard."

What will voting look like?

Elections NB will spend $250,000 to hire additional staff. Each of the 600 polling stations across the province will be staffed by at  least two additional people. Some of the larger polling stations, such as arenas, will require more staff.

"It does vary from location to location."

One of the jobs will include a staff member standing outside the polls, making sure voters know what to expect when they head inside. That staff member will also be offering hand sanitizer and masks. Meanwhile, a second person will be cleaning often-touched surfaces, such as ballot markers.

The decision to call an election came after four party leaders failed to reach an agreement on keeping Higgs in power for two more years. 1:35

Voters will be asked to wear masks at the polls, especially when physical distancing is not possible.

Workers at the polls will also be wearing face shields and masks. As happens in grocery stores, there will be arrows on the floor to indicate physical distancing and where people should stand. 

Uncomfortable voters 

Voters who are uncomfortable about physically heading to the polls can apply for a mail-in ballot.

People can apply for one by calling the returning office in their area or by visiting the Elections New Brunswick website.

"We expect an increased demand for mail-in ballots," Poffenroth said.

This year, Elections NB will also pay for return postage for those mail-in ballots because of the pandemic. 

Premier Blaine Higgs met with Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy at Government House in Fredericton on Monday afternoon before announcing an election will be held Sept. 14. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News)

Mail-in ballots should be at the returning office no later than 8 p.m. on election day. If not, the vote won't be counted.

Poffenroth said the biggest logistical challenge now isn't the respiratory virus, but that the province is holding a short election.

She said returning offices may not open all at once and need time to set up internet and phone lines. So she's asking for patience from the public.

"With fixed elections, people are used to things being ready."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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