New Brunswick

New Brunswick election: Software glitch to blame for result delays

The company that supplied the electronic tabulators for Monday's New Brunswick election says an "off-the-shelf computer program" caused the numerous delays in getting final results, not the much-maligned machines.

Voting machine company insists an ‘off-the-shelf computer program’ malfunctioned

Chief Electoral Officer Michael Quinn says despite the unprecedented issues and delay, the election results are accurate. (CBC)

The company that supplied the electronic tabulators for Monday's New Brunswick election says an "off-the-shelf computer program" caused the numerous delays in getting final results — not the much-maligned machines themselves.

Early in the evening, results steadily streamed in from all points of the province, but then a technical glitch in the new voting system ground things to a near-halt. Monday's vote marked the first provincial election in which electronic tabulators were used at all polling stations.

Elections New Brunswick Chief Electoral Officer Michael Quinn said the process was supposed to be a simple one: Vote, walk up to a machine much like a fax machine and insert your ballot. Computers were then supposed to take it from there.

“The vote tabulation machines are not at all in fault here. Vote tabulation machines worked fine,” he said.

But a computer program used to enter the tabulators' results was the real problem. It didn't properly replace the manual results that were initially called in from polling stations.

Elections New Brunswick used vote tabulators to count the votes in Monday's provincial election. It was the first time they were used in a provincial election. (CBC)

The voting machines were provided by a Toronto company, Dominion Voting Systems. Company vice-president James Hoover said the computer program in question malfunctioned. But he doesn't understand why a number of tests ahead of the election didn't turn up the problem.

“Right now, we haven't looked into why it didn't show up in any of the early testing. Our focus is just to get the results done now,” Hoover said.

'Failure of one simple program'

Despite the unprecedented issues and delays, Elections New Brunswick insists the election results are accurate.

“It was a failure of one simple program, which took an hour to determine and then it was immediately corrected,” Quinn said. “So there was no failure as far as the counting of the ballots, absolutely none.”

The Liberals won a majority government with 27 seats. The PCs won 21 and the Greens have one seat.

Elections New Brunswick said it will not be conducting a review and expects to use the same voting system from the same company in the next election.

Candidates questioning the accuracy of the results in their riding can request a recount through a judge, Quinn added.

Tories call for recount by hand

The PCs have called for the ballots to be recounted by hand. After Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward conceded defeat and stepped down Tuesday, he pointed directly at Elections New Brunswick.

“They have a responsibility to be transparent and to be accountable,” he said. “And we will certainly participate as part of that process.”

Quinn, who apologized for the delay and the confusion surrounding it, insists that's unnecessary, and all candidates will have an opportunity to verify the data starting Friday.

The experience with electronic voting has most likely shaken many voters belief in counting machines, said Michael Camp, an assistant director of journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

“I watched last night in horror just seeing this whole thing fall apart,” Camp said. “I asked myself, 'Why are we even doing this? What's the point all for expediency?’

"Call me old-fashioned but I think there is something to be said of counting votes one by one, making it a human enterprise rather than something at the whim of a computer system.”