Parties uneasy with 'None of the above' on byelection ballot

Elections New Brunswick’s attempt to add a “None of the above” option to the ballot in next month’s Saint John East byelection is likely dead after four political parties said more time is needed to explore the option.

Chief electoral officer Michael Quinn said change could be made for Nov. 17 byelection if parties agreed

Elections New Brunswick has offered two proposals to allow voters to decline to vote for candidates in the Nov. 17 Saint John East byelection. (CBC)

Elections New Brunswick’s attempt to add a “None of the above” option to next month’s Saint John East byelection ballot is likely dead after four political parties said more time is needed to explore the option.

Many voters who deliberately spoiled their ballots in last month’s provincial election complained that electronic vote tabulating machines rejected them with a beep and that eroded their right to secrecy.

Michael Quinn, the province's chief electoral officer, said the ballot could be changed in time for next month's Saint John East byelection if there was an agreement by the province's five political parties. (CBC)
Mike Quinn, the province’s chief electoral officer, now wants to allow voters to cast a ballot for "None of the above candidates" or indicate that they decline to vote.

Quinn said in a confidential note to the political parties, which was obtained by CBC News, that if all five political parties agreed by Friday, he would make the change for the Saint John East byelection on Nov. 17.

“I can confirm that I have put forward to the advisory committee on the electoral process the idea of adding a 'decline to vote' or similar option on the machine readable ballot,” Quinn said in a statement sent to the CBC.

“This could be done in time for the Saint John East byelection, as the ballot form is one of the forms prescribed by the chief electoral officer, and may be varied from time to time (as long as it contains the prescribed essential details).”

The Saint John East byelection was called after Liberal Gary Keating suddenly resigned last week. 

The Liberals have recruited Saint John Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart to run in the riding.

Rinehart will face NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, who announced his intention to quit politics on Sept. 22 after he failed to win a seat in the provincial election. This will be Cardy's third attempt to win a seat in the legislature since 2012.

Glen Savoie will be the candidate, again, for the Progressive Conservatives. He lost by nine votes to Keating on Sept. 22.

Sharon Murphy will be the Green Party's candidate.

Voters must be 'widely consulted'

As recently as two weeks ago, there seemed to be a political consensus over Elections New Brunswick halting its practice of asking voters if they intended to spoil their ballots.

Green Party Leader David Coon said he is open to adding "None of the above" to future ballots but he would like to consult the public before a change is made. (CBC)
Green Leader David Coon, however, said on Tuesday he still likes the idea of adding a “None of the above” option to ballots in the future, but he said it can't be rushed.

"People need to be widely consulted on this. You don't just change electoral ballots on a whim,” he said.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch said the Friday deadline for political parties to respond to the request isn't long enough to consult his members.

What if, ‘None of the above’ wins? I mean, have we thought of that?- Stephen Yardy, NDP executive director

"We have a process and if it's too short a timeline, it's too short a timeline,” he said.

Dan Murphy, the executive director of the Liberal party, also said his party also is hesitant about moving too quickly.

"We're just not sure that all the options have been looked at,” Murphy said.

"We support a comprehensive look at this, and maybe we should look at consulting outside the political parties, but right now, this has been put to us on a Monday and it's a pretty quick timeline."

Stephen Yardy, the executive director of the NDP, said the change also has some potentially big implications and it may need additional legislation.

“What if, ‘None of the above’ wins? I mean, have we thought of that?” Yardy said.

Only the People's Alliance said it likes Elections New Brunswick's idea and would be ready to support having the addition made to next month's ballot.

“Kris [Austin] feels that either option would be better than the current privacy breach that occurs with a spoiled ballot,” said a statement from the People’s Alliance.

Austin has been outspoken in his criticism over the vote tabulation machines and how the beeps for rejected ballots may have changed the way some people intended to vote.

Election day figures show only 1,611 rejected ballots were cast in the province's 49 ridings.

That's half the number of the 2010 election and 1,000 less than the previous low recorded in 1987.

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