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2. Background

Regular elections were run from 1785 to 1795 in New Brunswick without the benefit of election law assented to by the Crown. The first proposed election bill was written in 1790 and was passed as "An Act, for Regulating Elections of Representatives in General Assembly, and for limiting the duration of Assemblies, in this Province", and was assented to in 1795. Seemingly, this Act covered all contingencies that might commonly arise. However, it did fail to specify that the elector had to be male and this "error" remained uncorrected until 1848.

Until 1855 and the introduction of the secret ballot, all voting in the province was done by voice and recorded in a poll book. Following the introduction of the secret ballot, an elector no longer had to publicly declare a candidate's name in order to have his vote recorded. The Returning Officer was the local sheriff who might or might not be aided by a poll clerk who noted who had voted in a poll book.

Many changes were made in election laws from 1795 to 1967, designed in part to curb the power of the sheriffs. Misuse of this power is substantiated in historical accounts with the hiding and burning of poll books, disenfranchising of qualified electors, allowing those not qualified as electors to cast votes, or refusing to poll any electors and taking it upon themselves to declare the winners without a poll.

Amendments evolved along cultural and religious lines. Beginning in 1785 all males were eligible to vote. However, beginning in 1791 in order to vote electors were required to swear an oath that was in conflict with Catholic religious principles. In 1810 a simple oath of allegiance was substituted for the 1791 act, which was religiously acceptable, and came into effect in June 1811. Catholics were still ineligible for running as candidates for, or holding seats in, the Assembly, or holding civil or military offices until 1830. The decision of the Assembly followed the Catholic emancipation act of the Imperial Parliament of 1829.

Women were given the right to vote in 1919. Age and residency became the only criteria for municipal elections in 1967, people who did not own land could pay a poll tax. Women who were property owners could vote municipally as far back as 1866.

Natives were given the right to vote in 1963 without losing their native status. Prior to that they were allowed to vote only if they had served in Her Majesty's armed forces.

The Elections Act came into effect in 1967 and provided for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer / Municipal Electoral Officer to run the provincial and municipal elections. This was a recommendation of the Byrne Commission. At this point, the county system was abolished and the system of cities, towns and villages that we know today was established. Municipal Elections had until then been run by individual municipalities or counties (as is still the case in other provinces). The Chief Electoral Officer was also given the responsibility of overseeing all provincial elections and reporting the results directly to the legislature. Up to this point, election results were submitted directly to the clerk of the House of Assembly by county sheriffs who ran the election in their respective counties.

In Canadian tradition, there is no set date upon which provincial elections must be called. They are held by order of the Lieutenant-Governor and can occur at any point within the Government’s mandate.

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
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