FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's municipal and school board elections are drawing international attention - not for who is running - but because of the way ballots will be counted.

On Monday, the province will become the first in Canada to use electronic tabulation machines to count ballots for every community.

Chief Electoral Officer Michael Quinn said the machines will count the ballots throughout the day, and results could be known soon after the polls close.

"I estimate an outside time limit to be 90 minutes, but I'm hoping for much better than that," he said. "And 90 minutes is a vast improvement over some situations in the past where we're gone through the middle of the night still counting ballots."

Last year, the provincial government asked Elections New Brunswick to find ways to improve the election process.

"The processes and technology that we've come up with have not been used anywhere on a provincewide basis for an election like this," he said.

Dominion Voting has been contracted to provide 229 of the machines, which look like a combination printer-scanner used for a home computer.

The cost? About $800,000.

Quinn said that's close to what the province would pay for the old method of counting ballots by hand.

The machines are different from the problem-plagued ones used in Florida during the 2000 presidential election in the United States.

"These are not voting machines," Quinn said. "You still mark a paper ballot and slip that paper ballot into the ballot box . . . The difference is that it goes through a scanner-tabulator before it goes into the ballot box."

Most of the chief electoral officers from across the country, including Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, and two officials from the state of New York will be in Fredericton to observe the process.

Quinn said they have two buses to take the officials to some polling stations, and will conduct a post-election seminar Tuesday.

Elections New Brunswick is believed to be the only electoral agency in Canada that oversees both provincial and municipal elections.

"We want to see first-hand how Elections NB administers and runs municipal elections," said Saundra Arberry, chief electoral officer for Elections NWT.

"We are particularly interested in exploring any efficiency associated with having both levels of elections under one umbrella."

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