Cross border commuters can't vote in person and struggle for clarity

·5 min read
Memramcook-Tantramar Green Party MLA Megan Mitton said there are hundreds of cross-border commuters in her riding who aren't allowed to vote in person because of isolation restrictions. She said the rules changed so late in the election that many people missed the deadline for mail-in ballots. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Memramcook-Tantramar Green Party MLA Megan Mitton said there are hundreds of cross-border commuters in her riding who aren't allowed to vote in person because of isolation restrictions. She said the rules changed so late in the election that many people missed the deadline for mail-in ballots. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

People who live in New Brunswick and work in Nova Scotia say government imposed modified self-isolation is making it difficult to vote in the upcoming elections.

For people who had time to plan, a mail-in ballot is an easy way of voting, but other's didn't realize they would not be allowed to vote in person because of cross-border commuting or that straight forward answers would be so hard to come by.

Anastacia Merrigan is a lawyer with offices in Sackville, where she lives, and in Amherst N.S, about 20 km away. She crosses the border five days a week. She's been living under modified self-isolation for just over a week. It didn't occur to her to request a mail in ballot.

"I thought that would be an essential service, that I could just appear and take all the normal precautions, wear a mask, sanitize, keep socially distanced," she said.

Anastacia Merrigan is a lawyer with offices in both this province and Nova Scotia. She said it took her a number of phone calls over a few days to get an answer as to how she was expected to vote in the municipal elections.
Anastacia Merrigan is a lawyer with offices in both this province and Nova Scotia. She said it took her a number of phone calls over a few days to get an answer as to how she was expected to vote in the municipal elections. (Anastacia Merrigan, submitted)

But when people started to post on social media that they'd been turned away from advanced polls, she started to worry.

Merrigan tried to call her returning office from work on Monday. The toll-free line can't be accessed from Nova Scotia so she had to wait until after work.

She was told to request a mail-in ballot.

"I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get a ballot to me and then back in the less than one week," she said.

Other options were voting by phone, or she was told to simply drive to the polling station and flag down a constable who would get someone for her, and if that didn't work, "just honk the horn and someone will come out."

Merrigan didn't think honking her horn outside a polling station was sound democratic procedure. So, over two days she made multiple phone calls to the returning office hoping to get the information she'd need to ensure her vote could be cast.

Eventually, she was assured that someone would be outside looking for people in modified isolation, like herself.

Merrigan said she put in the work, but others may not be able or willing to do the same.

"It's definitely been a frustrating process and it's been one that I think is going to discourage a lot of people from actually getting out there and making their voice heard,"

48 hours and waiting

Alyssa Greene is a postal worker who lives outside of Sackville and also works in Amherst and is living in modified isolation, or as she calls it "house arrest."

Alyssa Gould said, "the new restrictions were problematic for everybody, but because voting is a pretty fundamental right in Canada, I didn't it didn't occur to me there'd be a problem." She applied for a mail-in ballot, and it took nearly a week for her to get it.
Alyssa Gould said, "the new restrictions were problematic for everybody, but because voting is a pretty fundamental right in Canada, I didn't it didn't occur to me there'd be a problem." She applied for a mail-in ballot, and it took nearly a week for her to get it. (Alyssa Greene/submitted)

"Because voting is a pretty fundamental right in Canada … it didn't occur to me there'd be a problem," she said.

Greene lives outside of Sackville town limits, so is only able to vote in district education council and regional health authority elections, but she said "they're important positions."

Greene registered for a mail in ballot on April 30. As a postal worker, she had heard about plant closures in Halifax so was relieved to hear Elections NB would be using priority mail, which doesn't usually route through Halifax.

It was supposed to arrive Tuesday.

"So, Tuesday when I got home from work, nope, no ballot," said Greene.

Greene said she called the returning office and was told once she gets the ballet, "Don't put your ballot in the mail, whatever you do."

It finally arrived on Thursday.

She was told someone would pick it up for her to make sure it's in on time.

"It's great that they have ... made accommodations, but how many people are going to have gone through what I went through and just like, 'Screw it, I'm just not going to vote', right?"

Hundreds of cross border commuters

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton estimates hundreds of people are in a similar position. She said she doesn't have an exact number, but can think of two Amherst employers that draw more than 200 employees from New Brunswick.

Megan Mitton, Green Party MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, said decisions coming from Fredericton need to consider the consequences for people living outside the capitol city.
Megan Mitton, Green Party MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, said decisions coming from Fredericton need to consider the consequences for people living outside the capitol city.(Jacques Poitras/CBC)

She said being careful not to spread the virus is important, but the lack of clarity from the province is a problem.

"We need to make sure that these rules that are brought into effect, the decisions that are made in Fredericton, that there's an understanding of how they're implemented in real life and in people's lives here," said Mitton.

"People's voting rights have been potentially compromised because there wasn't clear communication around how people need to vote."

Mitton said despite days of trying, she still isn't sure exactly what the voting procedure is for her modified self-isolating constituents. She said there needs to be clear written instructions that can be shared with the people who need to know.

So far, she said, she hasn't found anything of the sort.

Curbside voting at the Sackville polling station

On Thursday afternoon, Kim Poffenroth, the province's chief electoral officer, told CBC news that she has spoken to the election clerk responsible for the Sackville polling station.

"They're arranging to have signs posted for those who wish to take advantage of the curbside voting," said Poffenroth.

She said constables will be waiting outside and will notify staff who will go through the curbside voting procedure.

"One of the poll workers at that location has graciously agreed to allow his cell phone number to be given out so an individual could call that location ahead of time to make arrangements to make sure someone is available."

The Municipal elections are scheduled for May 10 in most parts of the province, while Edmundston and Upper Madawaska region's voting is suspended until May 25, with advance voting there to be held on May 15 and May 17.

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