New Brunswick

Elections NB hopes to avoid repeat of 2014 vote tabulator debacle

Four years ago New Brunswick voters were assured that new tabulation machines would mean faster results on election night. Needless to say, things didn't go as planned.

Tabulation machines tested and ready to go, says Elections New Brunswick director of operations

Elections New Brunswick says they have taken extra precautions to avoid a repeat of 2014. (CBC)

Four years ago New Brunswick voters were assured that new tabulation machines would mean faster results on election night.

Needless to say, things didn't go as planned.

A fault in the system meant that results were slow to arrive and an outcome was not known until much later than expected.

That is a result Craig Astle, Elections New Brunswick director of operations, says won't happen this time.

"We've taken extra precautions after 2014," said Astle.

'There was no issue with the tabulators, OK?'

3 years ago
Elections NB director of operations Craig Astle said there will be no delays getting this year's election results. The issue that caused 2014's delay has been 'fixed.' 1:42

Election night 2014

After polls closed on election night in 2014, results started coming in but then suddenly stopped.

Elections New Brunswick stopped updating their result website for more than 90 minutes and by 11 p.m. no riding had 100 per cent of their votes counted.

After the election night debacle, Dominion Voting Systems, the company that provided tabulation machines in the 2014 election and will do so again this year, blamed the lack of results on an "off-the-shelf computer program" that malfunctioned.

Astle said this means the machine wasn't able to communicate effectively with Elections New Brunswick servers.

Craig Astle, Elections NB director of operations, says the issue in the 2014 election was related to software transmitting data, not the tabulation machines themselves. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"The issue was with a piece of software that was copying data," said Astle.

"There was no proper handshake signal that the data was received properly."

The one silver lining may be that the machines were later proven to actually serve their primary function, to accurately count votes.

"We know that they're accurate because seven judicial recounts proved that they were accurate," said Astle.

The process

Astle said things will be a little different this time around.

Voters will cast their ballots by using a "security sleeve," a cardboard sleeve that conceals who the individual voted for.

Voters will cast their ballots by using a “security sleeve,” a cardboard sleeve that conceals who the voter voted for. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

The voter will the put their ballot into the machine — a poll worker performed this task in 2014.

At the end of the night, the province's 730 tabulation machines will transmit via mobile modems, a new addition to the process, to Elections New Brunswick's servers.

Astle said if everything goes as planned, preliminary results should start rolling in around 9 p.m. on election night.

Also gone is a feature that became a minor issue during the last election, a beep that was made when a voter entered a blank or spoiled ballot.

"In 2014, there was an audible alert; it was an older technology," said Astle.

"This time with the newer technology there's no audible alert. The screen will flash to indicate an over vote or a blank ballot."

There was fear at the time that the beep may infringe on people's right to intentionally and secretly spoil their ballots.

Digital way to go

Astle said the move away from hand counting ballots, which was the norm before 2014, was the right one as they can provide more accurate results.

"It's been a long day for polling workers, it's been 13 hours working at the polls, we want to make sure the results are accurate," said Astle.

Astle said the counting of ballots digitally is more accurate as the element of human error, exacerbated by the long day at the polls for poll workers, is greater when people are counting. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"[Digital results] are much more accurate than the transcription problem that might occur from a poll worker who's worked 13 hours at the poll."

Astle said Elections New Brunswick and Dominion Voting Systems have worked diligently on testing the machines and systems to make sure everything works smoothly this election.

He said 13 employees recently tested the machines over a 43-hour period.

"We want to make sure everything gets tested, and the machine is accurate, before we send them out to the returning officers," said Astle.

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  • In a previous version of this story, CBC News quoted Paul Harpelle, communications director for Elections New Brunswick. In fact, it was Craig Astle, Elections New Brunswick director of operation.
    Sep 18, 2018 7:07 AM AT

With files from Alex Vietinghoff