None of the Above: Secrecy and Rejected Ballots

10 10 2014

[Editor’s Note: This story has to do with voters who attempt to signify on their ballot in some way “none of the above” or “another candidate not listed”, etc., thus “spoiling” their ballot. Because they did not mark one of the boxes of the candidates printed on the ballot, the ballot reading machine rejects the ballot. This makes it known to the electioneers that the person “spoiled” their ballot, which is a violation of their right to a secret ballot.]

Parties demand end to asking voters about rejected ballots

Number of rejected ballots plummeted in the 2014 provincial election

By Robert Jones, CBC News Posted: Oct 10, 2014 10:34 AM AT Last Updated: Oct 10, 2014 10:34 AM AT

Elections New Brunswick staff were trained to alert voters if their ballots were rejected to ensure that was their intention.

Elections New Brunswick staff were trained to alert voters if their ballots were rejected to ensure that was their intention. (CBC)

New Brunswick political parties are calling on Elections New Brunswick to stop questioning voters about their ballots in future elections in the wake of a collapse in the number of spoiled ballots cast in last month’s vote.

“The decision should have been to err on the side of the secret ballot, absolutely,” said Green Party Leader David Coon.

“There shouldn’t have been anything done to compromise that.”

Coon said he would like to see a “None of the above” choice placed on every ballot so voters could deliver more direct messages of displeasure during elections.

Green Party's David Coon launches platform

Green Party Leader David Coon said he would like to see a “None of the above” option added to New Brunswick ballots. (CBC)

Elections New Brunswick programmed polling station tabulators to reject bad ballots with a beep in the provincial election so poll workers could ask voters about their true intentions and help those who made a mistake.

The number of spoiled ballots cast around the province collapsed to half the level of the last election, with critics blaming the intervention and questioning by poll workers for driving protest voters away or embarrassing them into voting for candidates they did not really support.

‘I question whether a secret ballot is a secret ballot.’– Jason Stephen, Progressive Conservative Party president

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.

Ellen Creighton, the executive director of the Liberal Party, said her party shares concerns that the right of voters to a secret ballot was compromised in the election.

Jason Stephen, the president of the Progressive Conservative Party, called for the practice of identifying spoiled ballot voters to be terminated.

Jason Stephen

Jason Stephen, the president of the Progressive Conservative Party, said he would like to see Elections New Brunswick halt the practice of notifying voters if the vote tabulators rejected their ballot. (CBC)

“I question whether a secret ballot is a secret ballot,” said Stephen.

“It puts people into an awkward spot if you intentionally spoil your ballot and the machine flags it.”

People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he doesn’t agree with people spoiling their vote, but says they have a right to do it privately if they choose.

Only the NDP was not available for comment on the issue on Thursday.

‘I was outed’

The fact that Elections New Brunswick staff were alerted to rejected ballots angered some people who wanted to spoil their ballots in secret.

Sackville’s Wayne Anderson didn’t support any of his local candidates and spoiled his ballot on purpose.

Anderson said the procedure violated his right to cast a secret ballot.

“I went to the polling station and I was outed,” said Anderson.

Earlier this week, Elections New Brunswick forwarded a seven-year-old legal decision involving tabulators from Ontario when asked about the policy of alerting voters to rejected ballots.

In that 2007 case, a judicial recount in a municipal election in the city of Vaughn turned up 96 valid votes that tabulators had rejected because voters made markings too faint or small for the machines to recognize.

Justice P.H. Howden criticized election officials for not activating the machines to alert poll workers when they could not read a ballot.

Paul Harpelle, a spokesperson for Elections New Brunswick, indicated that case convinced Elections New Brunswick it needed to flag problem votes in last month’s election.

Even before the Sept. 22 election, there had been concerns raised about the implications of having the machines make a sound when they detected a rejected ballot.

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