Harper to blame for Elections Canada’s awful voter registration mess

Harper to blame for Elections Canada’s awful voter registration mess

by: Obert Madondo  | Oct 12, 2015

Elections Canada made an awful mess of the 2015 federal election registration process.

Stephen Harper is to blame. When the Conservative government slashed Elections Canada’s budget by eight per cent in 2013, it further weakened an agency that already struggled to manage procedural errors, and failed to adequately address allegations of fraud in previous elections.

Elections Canada and the Canadian electoral system are under attack. The impact is impossible to miss out.

The 2015 voting process, which began last week, has already been an intriguing tale of “irregularities on voter cards”. Wrong polling locations. Voters being directed to polling stations which do not exist. Voters being assigned addresses in a different province. Voters being directed to two different polling locations. Voters being directed to vote “in a completely different neighbourhood“. ETC.

The Times Colonist reports, “Elections Canada is reminding voters to check their polling station after a Sidney man received a postcard directing him to a wrong location. Jon Blair received a card in the mail telling him to vote at Lakehill Elementary School — 22 kilometres away from his actual voting place in Sidney.”

Back in September, the CBC reported that Geneviève Grenier, a Montrealer who has lived at the same address for 12 years, and consistently voted using that address, found out that her name was missing from the agency’s online list. Turns out Elections Canada had switched her back to her old address in Ontario.

Metro News reports the story of a voter who received “two Elections Canada information cards directing him to two different polling stations” in Winnipeg. It’s a mix-up that may leave voters “too confused to bother casting a ballot.”

Then there are reports of painfully long wait times forcing some voters to give up their Charter-guaranteed right to vote.

It’s a mess that recalls bad memories of the 2011 robocall scandal. Memories of shambolic voter registration processes in dictatorships too. In fact, the mess may just cause some to call into question the fairness of the Oct. 19 election.

But my main concern is this: There are disturbing parallels between the Elections Canada mess and the events surrounding a landmark by-election in a constituency (riding) called Harare South in Zimbabwe.

In 2012, I alluded to this case in a Huffington Post piece that discussed the high-stakes Etobicoke Centre by-election appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

I posited:

During the initial election in April, 1995, Margaret Dongo, a sitting MP, stood as an independent candidate and “lost” to dictator Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party by 1,097 votes. Dongo, did not walk away silently, as did most candidates who “lost” by a few hundred votes during the 2011 federal election. She investigated the vote and challenged the result in the courts.

I led the team that spearheaded the investigation. We investigated the ballots cast, voter’s registers used, conduct by election officials, and unearthed massive fraud. Scores of voters had voted more than once. Unregistered voters had voted. Dead people too. People had voted without proper voter identification. Some voters had fictitious or incomplete addresses.

Elections Canada recently resend 5,600 Toronto voter cards after a polling station mixup. The original voter cards “directed residents to vote at 44 Room Ave., which does not exist”.

In my HuffPost piece, I alluded to a CBC News report that exposed striking parallels with Zimbabwe. Turns out “dozens of people voted without providing any evidence showing where they lived”. And, “at least five people appear to have voted twice.”

Before the Supreme Court case, Borys Wrzesnewsky, the losing Liberal candidate in Etobicoke Centre, had successfully petitioned the Ontario Superior Court. He’d refused to accept losing by a mere 26 votes. He alleged that 86 people had voted without voter identification cards. Justice Thomas Lederer threw out 15 of the disputed ballots.

Wrzesnewsky alleged that five voters who had voted by registration certificates “most likely did vote twice.” And that two election officers had vouched for more than one voter who showed up without ID. The judge threw out four of the disputed votes.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada complained that a Conservative representative had engaged in behavior that “disrupted the voting” process and “caused confusion, and frightened many voters.”

There was even a strong suggestion that “non-existent voters might have cast ballots in Etobicoke-Centre.” Lederer invalidated 79 of the votes cast.

In a reports report released after the Etobicoke debacle, Elections Canada claimed that 165,000 people had voted improperly during the 2011 federal election.

The election authority in Zimbabwe is well taken care of by that country’s geriatric dictator. It exists to disenfranchise opposition supporters and perpetuate his genocidal rule.

As if, Elections Canada’s problems weren’t awful enough, in June, 2014, the Conservatives passed the so-called Fair Elections Act, or Bill C-23, an anti-democratic law that makes it hard for students, Indigenous people, the poor and immigrants to vote. These are groups least likely to vote Conservative on Oct. 19. I don’t know about you, but news headlines stating that “thousands of new Canadians must wait longer to vote” make me nervous.

“Preventing people from voting has been legalized for this election because of changes brought in by the ‘Fair’ Elections Act,” says Dylan Penner, Democracy Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

Canadian democracy loses. The Conservatives win. During the voter suppression-riddled 2011 federal election, 9,434,184 eligible voters didn’t cast their vote. With only 39.62 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives bagged 54.22 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, and 100 per cent of political power.

A 2013 Federal Court ruling on the robocalls scandal implicated the Conservatives in election fraud. It stated that “there was an orchestrated effort to suppress votes during the 2011 election campaign by a person with access to the [Conservative Party’s] CIMS database.”

In September, Elections Canada warned its staff to watch out for U.S.-style voter suppression tactics “aimed at discouraging — or even stopping — voters from casting a ballot.” The Council of Canadians recently launched VoteWatch, “a secure online service that allows Canadians to report voter suppression and other dirty tricks they experience or witness in the lead up to election day”.

The 2015 election is about the change Canada desperately needs. Before heading to the polls, please verify that you’re registered, and that you’re registered in your riding, under your current address. And while you’re at it, do vote for a candidate belonging to a party that’s willing to liberate Canada from its anti-democratic first-past-the-post electoral system. A party that’s also willing to empower Elections Canada.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow me on Twitter: @Obiemad


2 thoughts on “Harper to blame for Elections Canada’s awful voter registration mess

  1. Seriously, that headline is so wrong and unbelievably misleading it begs the question about the accuracy of anything on this website.

    Harper is certainly not to blame for an Elections Canada mess up, but if you have ever worked in any elections office provincial or federal you will know that there are always problems with voters cards. It’s nothing to do with the PM or party in power, it’s E.C., computers and human errors.

    1. No one disputes the fact that “there are always problems with voters cards”, “computers” and “human errors” in all electoral systems. Most ruling parties exploit such weaknesses to perpetuate their rule. When the Conservatives slashed Elections Canada’s budget by eight per cent in 2013, it further weakened an agency that already struggled to manage procedural errors, and failed to address allegations of fraud in previous elections.

      Problem is: We always apologize for those in power because we’re supposed to believe that agencies like Elections Canada are “independent”. We often neglect the fact that ruling parties can exploit such agencies for political gain. Elections Canada and the Canadian electoral system are under attack and the impact is impossible to miss out.

      If there had been any political will to address Elections Canada’s problems and weaknesses, which, in the case of the 2011 federal election, the courts found to have impacted the final result in numerous ridings, I’d rescind my assertion that Harper is to blame. But there isn’t. As the prime minister of Canada, a country that considers itself “democratic” Harper is squarely to blame for an electoral system that deprives far too many people of their Charter-guaranteed right to vote.

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