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1. Introduction

The Province of New Brunswick has had a history of innovation and efficiency in electoral reform for many years. For example, the Elections Branch of the Department of Municipalities, Culture and Housing was given responsibility for the administration of both municipal and provincial elections, and has provided the Chief Electoral Officer, who is also the Municipal Electoral Officer, with the unique ability to make administrative improvements in the electoral process and to capitalize on economies and efficiencies as a result of the dual responsibilities. It has allowed for improvements in common polling divisions between the two electoral processes and other similar benefits. The current Elections Act was proclaimed on May 19, 1967, and the Municipal Elections Act on June 14, 1979.

However, there is room for further improvement. The recent provincial and municipal elections held in 1995 identified a number of problem areas. The purpose of this discussion paper on Electoral Reform is to outline areas where reforms and administrative changes can improve the electoral process. At the same time, it is important to ensure the rights of individuals and traditional democratic principles are protected, and will continue.

Over the years, the gradual process of change has resulted in numerous amendments to both the Elections Act and the Municipal Elections Act. The cumulative results have made the legislation difficult to interpret and even difficult to read by the average citizen, the elector. This has contributed, in part, to some confusion in the application of the legislation and difficulties in the administration of the electoral process.

The options presented in this discussion paper are in keeping with Government’s overall policy direction. It embraces as a basic concept a commitment to simplify the process of government administration. Election reform would also support Government’s commitment to promote the electronic highway and ensure that New Brunswick continues to be a leader and a major user of new technology. At the same time, this discussion paper puts the elector first and sets out areas for consideration which would make the election process more simple and consistent. In short, it would be easier to cast a ballot on election day.

This document supports Government’s intent for election reform in New Brunswick. It sets out major areas for potential change for discussion by a select committee of the legislature.

1.1 Mandate
This Discussion Paper on Electoral Reform identifies a number of key problem areas which have been identified from past elections and sets out possible options in a number of areas for electoral reforms. They include:

1. The consolidation of the Elections Act and the Municipal Elections Act to create a common set of rules and procedures that would govern all provincial and municipal elections.

One of the primary objectives of this Discussion Paper is to consolidate the rules and the procedures contained in the two Acts to avoid duplication and confusion.

2. The development of a continuous Registry of Electors that would serve for all elections and remove the necessity of a mandatory enumeration process.

The Registry of Electors is another key element in the effort to modernize the electoral process. The present process is an outdated and inaccurate method of preparing a list of electors.

3. The need for changes to other general administrative procedures so as to simplify and improve the overall electoral process.

Other general administrative improvements have been identified as a result of past elections. It is proposed that many of these be dealt with in this reform to streamline the total electoral process for the benefit of all electors and candidates.

1.2 Fundamental Principles
There are a number of fundamental democratic principles which must be respected and protected in a discussion of electoral administrative reform. The first principle is that the elector is, and must remain, number one in the process of change. The democratic right of each elector to cast his or her vote must be assured and protected.

The election process must continue to be open and honest, with sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure that all elections are free from abuse. The process must guarantee that only those who are entitled to vote have the opportunity and also assure that each individual casts only one ballot.

The election process must be simple and accessible to all electors to ensure that the maximum number of electors are able to exercise their democratic right to cast their vote. Electors are entitled to an efficient election process which is accessible with minimal delays and restrictions.

1.3 Standardizing The Electoral Process
The primary goal of this Discussion Paper is to present options for consideration to simplify and improve the electoral process. This will require sufficient flexibility in legislation to allow for the adoption of appropriate technologies as they become available and practical now and into the future. In today’s context of fiscal restraint, an associated goal must also be to ensure elections are effective and cost efficient.

However, it is essential to achieve simplification and standardization of the election process for all elections, i.e. municipal, provincial and possibly federal, while not restricting the flexibility of the particular election process to support the specific needs and characteristics of the jurisdiction it serves.

1.4 Provincial and Municipal Election Processes
This discussion paper on Electoral Reform identifies areas within the present provincial and municipal election processes where problems have been experienced and a common set of rules can and should be applied. Presently, different rules and procedures apply in many of the same functional areas at each level of election. This situation has caused difficulties for both election workers and for the elector as well, especially when provincial and municipal elections are held in close proximity. The opportunity now exists to streamline the administration of both provincial and municipal elections, to make the process simpler to administer and less confusing to all electors. The recent decision to eliminate School Board Elections removes a layer of complexity and this should facilitate this objective.

At the same time a new concept - the Rural Community - has been established as a cornerstone element of the response to the Commission on Land Use and the Rural Environment. This new concept provides for direct elections and local decision making for Rural Communities. The election of rural community committees is undertaken in a manner similar to municipal councils.

1.5 Changes in the Federal Election Process
Similar to New Brunswick, Elections Canada has made and continues to make, major changes to modernize the federal election process. On February 26, 1996, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada tabled a report to Parliament entitled Canada’s Electoral System: Strengthening the Foundation. This report contained some 122 recommendations for amendments to the Canada Elections Act. The intent of these proposed changes is to make the electoral process more accessible and efficient; to enhance candidate and political party participation; and to ensure fair competition in election financing.

1.6 Consistent Election Proceedings
The Federal Government is making changes to the federal electoral process. There may be potential benefits from closely monitoring these federal changes, participating where it can assist, and also adopting, where appropriate, those changes which would further enhance fundamental similarities between elections at all levels. After all, we are all dealing with the same elector. The New Brunswick Chief Electoral Officer should be provided with necessary discretion to allow for pilot testing of new methods and the adoption of new technologies as they become available, now and into the future, provided that the intent of our electoral legislation is maintained.

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick
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