Federal campaign, Carleton byelection confuses voters

New Brunswickers in the Woodstock and Hartland areas will be getting a double dose of democracy next month. But it may not go down easy.

Carleton byelection will be held on Oct. 5, while the federal election will come on Oct. 19

Some voters in western New Brunswick will have a chance to vote on Oct. 5 in the Carleton byelection and on Oct. 19 in the federal election. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

New Brunswickers in the Woodstock and Hartland areas will be getting a double dose of democracy next month.

But it may not go down easy.

Candidates, campaign workers, and some residents say the overlap between the federal election and a provincial byelection is confusing potential voters and could hurt turn-out.

"Mass confusion," says Stewart Fairgrieve, who's running in the provincial byelection for Carleton on Oct. 5.

Stewart Fairgrieve is running for the Progressive Conservatives in the Carleton byelection. Fairgrieve is trying to win back the seat vacated by former premier David Alward when he quit politics to accept a federal appointment. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
He says early on, voters were full of questions: "Why are there two Liberal candidates on red signs? Why is there a Progressive Conservative candidate and a Conservative candidate?"

Many intersections and off-ramps are dotted with campaign signs. Often, federal and provincial candidates from the same party have erected large signs side-by-side.

Fairgrieve says it's getting better now that more people have figured out there are two campaigns unfolding on the same terrain.

T.J. Harvey, who is running the federal riding of Tobique-Mactaquac in the Oct. 19 election, says he has been forced to explain too.

"I've heard everything from, `Why is [provincial Liberal] Courtney Keenan running against you?' to `Do you think it's positive to have two elections going on simultaneously?'" he says.

Liberal T.J. Harvey is running in the federal riding of Tobique-Mactaquac. He's been asked why another Liberal is running against him. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
"I'm always quick to let them know the distinctions between provincial and federal."

Elections New Brunswick, the provincial agency running the byelection, is mailing out voter information cards this week and is buying radio ads in Woodstock, hoping to straighten out any confusion.

Unfortunately, Elections Canada is sending out its voter cards this week, too, which means voters will have two cards to keep straight.

"You can sort of picture the voter who might walk into the wrong returning office and say, `I'm here to vote' and find themselves in the wrong place," says Paul Harpelle of Elections New Brunswick.

Confusion could affect turnout, because the two elections have different dates, voting hours, advance poll dates and locations, identification requirements, and returning offices.

"Both returning offices are on Main Street in Woodstock," Harpelle says.

Paul Harpelle, spokesperson for Elections New Brunswick, said there is a possibility that some voters could get the Carleton byelection and the federal election mixed up.
"Ours is closer to the Tim Horton's."

While a New Brunswick election, or byelection, doesn't require voters to bring ID, the federal election law does.

Bert Opie, a long-time PC campaign volunteer working for Fairgrieve, says he expects the overlap will depress turnout for the provincial byelection.

"A lot of people who don't follow politics are really confused," he says.

"They know there's a federal election, but somehow they're confused as to who's running federally and who's running provincially. I'd look for a low provincial vote."

The Carleton byelection is being held to fill the seat vacated by former premier David Alward, who stepped down in May after losing last year's provincial election.

Premier Brian Gallant could have called the byelection immediately, but waited until Sept. 4.

The date for the federal election, Oct. 19, was established by the federal fixed-election law.

Even voters who call themselves well-informed say they've had to concentrate to sort out the overlapping campaigns.

Debrah Westerberg doesn't live in the provincial Carleton riding but is in Woodstock often, and seeing the two sets of signs, she "got confused about who my [federal] candidate was, several times," she says.

Jim Hatto of Woodstock says he has heard a lot of confusion over the two campaigns and wonders if Gallant called the Carleton byelection for Oct. 5 because he wanted it to get lost in the federal race.

Hatto says he's not yet sure where to vote on each of the two polling days.

"I'll be able to figure it out, I'm sure," he said.

"It's not too complicated."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story indicated that residents in Florenceville-Bristol would be voting in both the Carleton byelection and the federal election. Florenceville-Bristol is not in the provincial riding of Carleton.
    Sep 23, 2015 7:54 AM AT

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