How I (could have) Stolen The Election
Wednesday, November 15, 200654 Comments
Hearing this, I just couldn’t help myself, so I came up with a plan to expose this absurd loophole. First I called the Guelph Mercury to try and get them on board. At first they declined, but the following morning I got a phone call notifying me that the editors had discussed it and that we were in.
We knew that if I actually voted, I would really open myself up to criticism and legal action. However, since the elections act says things like “you cannot vote twice” then we thought we might be able to get around it by spoiling the ballots. What I did was overvote, meaning that I checked off every name on the ballot. This spoils the ballot and does not count as a vote for or against any candidate, and therefore does not influence the outcome of the elections. For the record, I did not even cast one real vote for the candidates of my choice. I felt it was better to forfeit my vote than to open myself up to criticism that I was favouring any specific candidate in my voting.
If this ever goes to court, we will probably have to prove that the ballots were in fact spoiled, so I rented a pinhole spy camera from a spy store in Toronto. This colour video camera was so small that I was able to fasten it inside the breast pocket of my shirt and poke a very small hole in it for the lens to peek through. I was therefore able to capture the mission on video and audio.
We started shortly after the polls opened on Monday morning. We drove to the main office of the Guelph Mercury to pick up Greg Mercer, a Mercury reporter. Julia Chapman, news editor of the Ontarion, was also present. From there, four polling stations were randomly selected. We thought that two could be perceived as a fluke, three would be incredibly good luck, but four would show that anyone could in fact go to any polling station and vote.
Later in the day I shaved my long hair off, removed my glasses, and put on a dress shirt and tie. I looked very different than before. With my new identity, I went back to the first polling station I attended and attempted to vote again in the exact same place. In every case I did not encounter any resistance. I was asked for ID once, but when I said I didn’t have any, they let me vote anyway. In every case I made sure to spoil the ballot.
It truly amazes me at how easy it was to pull this off. You can’t vote in the CSA elections without proper ID. You can’t even purchase a glass of beer without proper ID, even if you are of age. Although some people think municipal elections are not a big issue, there is in fact a lot riding on them. Development in Guelph has been a contentious issue in recent weeks, and developers have huge financial stakes in who gets elected to city council.
With the overall voter turnout being about 40 per cent, in a city of 100,000 an election is in many cases won by a very small margin of votes. What I showed was one person could very easily vote at all 67 polling booths. With some minor changes to your identity, you can easily vote again at the same polling station twice. And in a ten-hour period you can get around to a lot of polling stations. It is not unreasonable to assume a single person could rack up 100 votes for the mayor in the course of a day.
Despite the fact that Karen Farbridge won this election by a whopping 5370 votes, a single Greyhound bus that seats 55 people would easily have been enough to sway the election the other way. The situation for city councilors is much more evident as seen be the fact that new ward 1 councilor Kathleen Farrelly won by a single vote. This is the point I was trying to make with my little experiment.
In the United States, there is a considerable amount of evidence that the Republican Party (and to a lesser extent the Democratic Party) is employing tactics to steal elections. University of Guelph professor Michael Keefer has written extensively on this subject and his work can be found at this website. Despite the incredibly large amounts of money, and huge numbers of people needed to pull this off through vote suppression, the rigging of electronic voting machines and the removal of eligible voters from the voting list, all of these tactics only sway the end result by about five per cent.
But here in Ontario you do not need vast amount of money, people, or coordination. All you need is a handful of people to take one day off work and you’re in. I could easily vote myself into office as a councilor just by getting my close friends to help me rig the election.
We have too much faith in our electoral system. The City Clerk told me (and the Guelph Mercury) that there was no way anyone would get away with voting improperly because if you don't have ID, you will have to take an oath. Although an oath was required at some polling stations, it was not at any of the ones I attended. Even if it was, it will not prevent anyone from voting if they are determined to do so. If we have so much trust in the general public not to steal votes, when there are huge financial stakes in who gets elected, then why do we not have the same trust in the general public not to steal, say, candy bars? The financial interests of a teenager stealing a candy bar compared to a developer looking to get property zoned a certain way for a new housing complex are incredible. If the government thinks we do not need to have tighter rules for elections, then why do we have a police force that is used to stop candy bar theft?
Although the stunt I pulled will probably cause me to get fined or charged (I have not yet been despite some people thinking I have), I personally think it is worth it. The potential legal ramifications are a $5000 fine and/or six months in jail. Several major news media including 680 News and the Globe and Mail have picked up on this and are going to do further stories if the City Clerk and the Guelph police decide to take this to the next level. If they do, I wouldn’t necessarily object because it would raise the specter of the issue to the level it deserves – where we can have a province-wide debate about the way municipal elections are carried out. A lawyer has already offered to represent me if this case goes further, so I eagerly await the knock on my door.
As for the general public, I am hopeful my actions will be seen not as a crime but as a wake up call. Our democracy is seriously threatened by this loophole and I hope this stunt will initiate some changes. Either way, I welcome the debate that is sure to follow.