Saturday, April 26, 2014

Less Than Meets The Eye

Were average citizens given to much political reflection, they would realize that from start to finish, the 'Fair' Elections Act has been almost exclusively about both discouraging people from voting and suppressing the vote of those who do not fit the Conservative Party's target 'audience.' Even in light of yesterday's announced amendments, that remains the case.

While the Act has provoked a flurry of steady, relentless, critical coverage, both in mainstream and social media, to view yesterday's ostensible retreat as a real victory is to misread the situation badly. Two aspects of the bill will, I think, support my thesis.

First, and less contentious in the public's mind, is the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer is still fettered when it comes to encouraging people to vote. To be sure, the amendment is less Draconian than the Harper regime originally sought:

In the original draft, Bill C-23 restricted the CEO to communicating only where, when and how to vote, raising concerns of an attempt to muzzle the independent agency.

Elections Canada advertising would still be limited to the nuts and bolts of the voting process, but the agency could continue to fund third-party education campaigns with elementary and secondary school students.

In other words, the CEO is still limited to encouraging people who can't vote (elementary and most high school students) to vote. While that may or may not bolster future civic participation, it does nothing to prompt those of voting age to attend the polls.

Secondly, the issue that received the bulk of media criticism, vouching for those without an ID with an address, continues to be a problem.

First, a slight digression. As you will recall, Pierre Poilivre et al. have consistently ruled out the use of voter information cards as an acceptable proof of address. The argument, proven repeatedly to be specious, was that it contributed to voter fraud in past elections.

But think about it for a moment. As a voter, you present valid identification, such as your birth certificate or health card, and then attempt to use a voter information card to establish your address. The card is rejected because you could be perpetrating a fraud. How? Well, even though you have proven who you are, you might have moved into another riding, but you might have also gone to your old address, either broken into your old mailbox or house to retrieve the card, with the express purpose of deceiving Elections Canada.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does.

But not to Mr. Poilivre and the rest of the cabal.

Like a dog that is regularly beaten by its cruel owner but is ever so grateful when that master/mistress gives it a few crumbs from the table, we are supposed to be ever so thankful for the following:

“The government will not support amendments to allow voting without a piece of identity,” Poilievre said in a press conference on Parliament Hill.

“(But) if someone’s ID does not have an address on it, they will have to sign a written oath of residence. Another voter with fully proven ID will need to co-sign attesting to that voter’s address.”

In other words, the voter is infantilized because he or she, lacking proof, not of identity but of address, must be in the company of an 'adult' who has the proper accreditation. Perhaps someone can explain to me how that does not just continue, in a slightly diluted form, the process of voter suppression of the young, the elderly or the homeless who may not be able to secure the proper accompaniment to the polls.

Watch the following video, as the oleaginous Minister of Democratic Reform tap dances around the truth of this bill. Unfortunately, his interlocutor, Rosie Barton, seems more interested in playing 'gotcha' than uncovering the truth about these very weak and very disappointing amendments. Start at the 10-minute mark:


  1. As someone who has worked on many elections, I'm not sure how much vouching matters. It wasn't much used at elections I worked at - maybe most voters were unaware of it.

    I think a rigid insistence of proof of address could backfire. Driver's licenses are not the gold standard of identification because the addresses on them are frequently out of date. People move a lot and normally the address is not the important part of a driver's license. Are drivers going to find themselves disqualified en masse because they don't have proof of current address or are the new rules going to be selectively applied to voters thought undesirable by the Cons? This is a weakness that could be useful to those interested in democracy.

    With this bill, voters have to plan in advance and arrange identification thought acceptable, and many won't. The Fair Elections Act is hostile to voters and democracy but there is little in it that an alert and concerned population couldn't get around.

    1. While I agree with your observations, ftd, the salient part of your comment for me is the phrase 'an alert and concerned populace.' For many, even going out to the polls is a struggle, and so it is unlikely that many of the less politically-engaged would bother returning to vote with the proper identification if turned away the first time.

    2. I know only too well that Canada does not have an alert and concerned population. If we did, we wouldn't have a Harper in power.

      I don't know how to get through to the average person. I realize more and more that any serious reflection on almost any subject is like talking a foreign language for most people. I just found out that only 1 in 6 Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and I doubt Canadians are much better. Canada is the country where I was reprimanded by my boss, in a provincial government office no less, for using the word "slats". She said no one could be expected to know what "slats" were.

      The Con approach to influencing people is to find a simple message, repeat it over and over and have a big PR budget and a superficially respectable image. Not an attractive approach for me, but it works better than sweet reason for most people. I have trouble figuring out just how low the lowest common denominator is, but that's who these simple messages are directed at.

      I agree that the Fair Elections Act is dangerous but Harper is reading the general population right, I suspect. The general population is a sort of accessory to the crime and just as dangerous as Harper.