The Fair Elections Act and Voter Suppression

Sunday, March 9, 2014

  • Protester rallies against the "robo call" scandal in Guelph in March, 2012.

    Protester rallies against the "robo call" scandal in Guelph in March, 2012.

Written by Peter Miller

Photo courtesy of Denise Martins 

This past weekend a rally was held in Guelph against the new “Fair Elections Act,” a bill introduced by the ruling Conservative Party in the Federal Government. The Guelph Wellington Coalition organized the rally for Social Justice. Protestors gathered at the Guelph Farmer’s Market at 11 am on Saturday, February 9 and walked to MP Frank Valeriote’s office at 11:30 am.

If implemented, the “Fair Elections Act” will get rid of the practice where one voter can vouch for another voter’s identity.  Vouching occurs when a voter does not have any id with them at the voting station.

Therefore, according to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, thousands of people will not be able to vote in the next Federal Election if the “Fair Elections Act” passes. An estimated 120,000 Canadian voters used the vouching system to vote in 2011.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is encouraging students to email MP’s sitting on a committee discussing the elections act. For the CFS, “the removal of vouching as a means of proving one's identity at the polls is a direct barrier to many Canadians, especially students, seniors, and people from low-income backgrounds. Post-secondary students frequently move, and maintaining government-issued proof of address is not only difficult but costly.”

For Leadnow, a group that is circulating a petition against "Fair Elections Act," "we’ve seen a similar strategy used by US Republicans to disenfranchise people who they know are less likely to vote for them. 37 state legislature have enacted voter ID laws that mostly hurt the poor, people of colour, and women."

The Bill puts restrictions on Elections Canada in promoting Federal Elections. If passed, Elections Canada will no longer be able to provide polling stations on campus, allow the use of voter identification cards, teach high-school students about elections, or launch election ads encouraging Canadians to vote.

The legislation also raises the maximum donation limits for individuals by 300 dollars. Raising donation limits will not level the playing field between parties, but instead be an advantage to the Conservative Party that gets more donations than other parties, according to Sarah Schmidt and Trevor Haché from Rabble.ca.

Last election electoral fraud was widespread across Canada including in Guelph, Ontario. Thousands of fraudulent phone calls lied, informing non-conservative party voters that their polling stations had changed. Despite the “robo-call” controversy, Elections Canada’s wishes to have more power to investigate crimes of voter suppression have been ignored. If passed, power to investigate election fraud will be taken away from the independent, arm’s length Elections Canada and be given to the Director of Public Prosecutions that is under government control.

The Conservative Party has also created the bill without any consultation with the public or elections Canada, and organizations like Fair Vote Canada are demanding consultation.

Canadian voter turnout has stagnated at around 60 percent. Fair Vote Canada is campaigning for proportional representation (PR) and hopes PR will be a way to increase voter turnout. Under the first past the post system, votes that do not elect the most popular candidate in a riding do not translate into any representation in Canadian Parliament. However, the introduction of at least an element of proportional representation into elections would allow voters to elect representatives in proportion to their votes.

According to Doug Baillie, the president of Fair Vote Canada, “the government’s current attempt to interfere with Elections Canada without opposition support and without consulting the Chief Electoral Officer is more proof of why Canada needs a proportional voting system.” 

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