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4. Registry of Electors

A continuous or permanent Registry of Electors is an automated listing of all eligible electors, maintained and updated using modern information processing techniques. The register uses data on electors which can be obtained from existing public sector data sources. For example, it could use the drivers license system to collect the names of most new electors as they become 18 years of age. A registry would contain the same information on an elector that would normally be collected through the door to door enumeration process. Like the enumeration process, a continuous registry of electors places an onus on Government in addition to the Elector to be registered as an eligible voter. While the term permanent or continuous registry is used interchangeably across Canada in describing the concept of a registry of eligible electors, in New Brunswick, the term continuous better reflects the concept which is proposed. That is, the registry will allow for frequent updates.

4.1 The Traditional Enumeration Process
The traditional enumeration process has not changed significantly in recent years. However, the Elections Branch has experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting qualified enumerators to enumerate electors. As well, many citizens, particularly the elderly and single women, are becoming more reluctant to open their doors to strangers. In today’s society, it is also getting more difficult to find people at home to be enumerated, given a modern busy life style. All of these factors contribute to inaccuracies and omissions in the present enumeration lists. This, coupled with a short revision period, makes it difficult to ensure that all eligible voters are on the list. The traditional enumeration process, as set out in legislation, may no longer be the most effective means of preparing lists of eligible electors. The suggested creation of a continuous Registry of Electors can provide the same or greater accuracy as enumeration by taking advantage of modern technology and information exchange.

4.2 Enumeration
Enumeration is one of the largest cost items in the running of any election. In 1995 the Elections Branch was required, by virtue of the Elections Act and by Regulation 85-48 under the Municipal Elections Act, to conduct two complete enumerations at a combined cost of over $1.5 million. A complete enumeration was done for the municipal elections during the period of March 27th to April 1st. Some 20 weeks later a second complete enumeration was conducted from August 21st to 25th, for the provincial election. A number of electors raised concerns over this duplication, asking why one enumeration list could not be used for both elections.

The Elections Branch had identified the benefits of a single enumeration process prior to the last elections, but legislation required that separate enumerations be held. It would have taken extensive changes to the qualifications for electors, among other changes, in each act, to provide for the use of one enumeration for both elections. It was not possible to make the required changes in the legislation for this to happen.

However, the provisions for enumeration should not be dropped totally, but should be retained as an optional method to be used in exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer. Gathering electors names as well as auditing the accuracy of the Registry may be retained in legislation in that context. The Chief Electoral Officer could be given the necessary discretion to determine whether an enumeration process will be required for exceptional cases, based on the quality of the current list of eligible electors. Government recognizes its responsibility to ensure that every elector be on a list of eligible electors. This principle should be enshrined for future legislation, while providing the Chief Electoral Officer with the capability to determine the optimum method of achieving it, whether it be using the continuous Registry of Electors, using the list from a previous municipal, provincial or federal election, or any other suitable list.

4.3 Revision Period
The Municipal Elections Act and the Elections Act now provide for a limited revision period within each election schedule. The currently mandated revision period should be eliminated and the Chief Electoral Officer provide for ongoing revision which could extend to one day prior to the election event, when a final list of eligible electors would be produced for use on polling day. This extended period should provide all electors with ample opportunity to ensure their names are on the list and the information is correct, or to be added to the Registry of Eligible Electors, as changes occur. During the election schedule, provisions would be made for specific revision events at the Returning Officer’s Office as a further convenience to the elector. Also, preliminary lists of electors could be provided to the parties up to and including the final list. This would provide a much greater guarantee of the accuracy of the Registry so that an elector would not be omitted, and prevented from voting on election day.

4.4 Registries in Other Jurisdictions
A number of jurisdictions across the country are reviewing or implementing the use of a registry of electors. British Columbia now has a permanent list in place and Alberta is in the process of developing a list in cooperation with Elections Canada. Manitoba has struck a committee to review the issue of establishing a permanent list. In Ontario, their Assessment Branch maintains a municipal list with annual revision and is also reviewing a proposal for the creation of a permanent list for all municipal elections. The province of Quebec is in the process of creating a Registry of Electors. It has made the required amendments to its Elections Act, to provide for the Registry of Electors, which come into force when the development period is complete. Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, like New Brunswick hold separate enumerations for each election.

4.5 Potential Cost of a Registry
There have been a number of studies on the costs and potential benefits of the use of a permanent registry in other jurisdictions. In June 1995, Elections Alberta did a cost benefit analysis on various voter registration methodologies, and concluded the optimum cost savings resulted from a joint venture with Elections Canada on the development of a registry which resulted in a saving over a ten year period of some $10.3 Million.

Elections Canada’s own estimate for creating a Permanent Registry for use in federal elections, indicates a break-even on cost from the first election and a potential savings of over $40 Million from the following election.

4.6 Benefits to the Election Process
A number of significant benefits can be identified by adopting and using a continuous Registry of Electors. As already mentioned, the current enumeration process is very costly, requiring the hiring, training and paying of fees for thousands of enumerators.

The accuracy of the list produced through the enumeration process has in the past been questioned. Its’ accuracy is dependent on a number of factors which are not easily controlled, such as the quality and ability of temporary workers trained and hired to compile the lists. The time of year the enumeration process is held, whether it be during the summer months when a large number of electors are away on vacation, or other factors, all impact on the quality of the list.

The current enumeration process results in the creation of numerous lists of electors compiled by individual polls which are not easily combined or sorted. With the creation of a continuous Registry, lists of electors can more easily be reformatted by name or street for use at the poll. In future, it is anticipated that when an elector votes at an advance poll, mobile poll or special (write-in) ballot the registry will be easily updated with that information, and be available at all polls on election day.

A Registry of Electors would easily be updated on polling day as electors cast their ballots, giving the Election Offices and the political parties an up to the minute accounting of the number of votes cast. Another important feature of a continuous Registry of Electors would be that updates could easily be made available by the Chief Electoral Officer to returning officers and registered political parties upon application at any time.

4.7 Creation of a Registry
There are a number of development options for the creation of a continuous Registry of Electors.

  1. The province could develop its own registry and would have complete and independent discretion in its design and use. It could determine all procedures to audit and revise this list. However, this also means that it must provide for the complete costs of the development and operation of the registry.
  2. Elections Canada is presently interested in entering into agreements with provincial jurisdictions to participate in the development of a registry. This registry of electors could be used by both jurisdictions for the running of federal, provincial, and possibly municipal elections.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada has proposed a joint venture for the creation of a Registry of Electors. A key factor for New Brunswick to consider is that Elections Canada is still developing its registry and is looking for the participation of its provincial partners. Should New Brunswick choose to participate, an early decision would ensure that the Province would have a say and influence in its development, as opposed to waiting until it is completed and in place. Of paramount importance will be to maintain the principles and results of the current enumeration practices, including; accuracy, comprehensiveness and maintaining the onus on the government to register electors. A secondary consideration in such a joint venture would be the harmonization of polling divisions. New Brunswick has made considerable progress in the nearly complete harmonization of its’ provincial and municipal polling divisions. It is an opportune time to discuss the further harmonization of polling divisions with Elections Canada, with the objective of encouraging the Federal Government to match our polling divisions.

4.8 Maintenance of the Registry
Recent research by Elections Canada indicates that a permanent or continuous registry can be maintained at a level of accuracy above 80% using several appropriate data sources. It is suggested that the New Brunswick Chief Electoral Officer could be responsible for ensuring the Registry is maintained at a high level of accuracy, and for determining the optimum maintenance levels, whether it be continuous, regular periodic updates, or just prior to a major electoral event.

4.9 Joint Federal/Provincial Initiatives
In 1995, the New Brunswick Elections Branch participated with Elections Canada on several pilots. A test of the Electronic Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors (ECAPLE) software was conducted in 4 electoral districts and was found to work successfully. As an initial review of the registry concept, New Brunswick supplied test data from drivers licenses, motor vehicle registrations and vital statistics to study the effectiveness of maintaining and updating a permanent registry from these sources of information. At a recent presentation made in Ottawa to the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism and the Electronic Highway, the Chief Electoral Officer, and other provincial officials, the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada reported that the results of their study were very encouraging, and they were about to pursue changes in their legislation to provide for the creation of a federal permanent registry.

4.10 Use of New Technologies
This proposed legislative reform to allow for the use of a continuous Registry of Electors must also allow for the future development and integration of other electronic technologies in the administration of elections. With the growing advances in new forms of communications and computer networks, what is only a possibility today is a reality tomorrow. It is suggested that the Chief Electoral Officer be provided with sufficient flexibility in legislation as to provide for pilots in other areas as new technology becomes available.

4.11 Privacy Concerns
It is recognized that the public has growing concerns about the amount of information which Government collects, and how this information will be used. For this reason, it is important to continue to provide in legislation for the protection of the information used in the continuous Registry of Electors to restrict its use for election purposes only, including partnerships with Elections Canada for federal elections purposes. Also, the New Brunswick Chief Electoral Officer would be able to use the Federal Registry or other federal data on electors to update New Brunswick’s registry if deemed appropriate to do so.

Government, in other initiatives, is currently developing legislation on the use of personal information. The proposal for the use of personal data for the democratic process would be considered a valid use of the data, and not an infringement on personal privacy. As an assurance of this confidentiality of personal information, it is proposed that an elector could request that his or her name not be included in the continuous Registry. Further, other legislative restrictions on the use of the required personal data be undertaken to provide the proper safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the information. Some of the key data source areas being considered were those used by Elections Canada in their pilot and are the data sources associated with Medicare, driver licensing and registration, and vital statistics program areas.

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