Democratic Reform Take Two


“Mr. Speaker, the member complained that the Fair Elections Act removes vouching as a form of identification.  However, she did not address the serious problems that Elections Canada’s own commissioned report found with vouching.”

Pierre Poilievre is still adamant: the government’s amendments to the Elections Act will buttress our democracy in the face of invading mongols at the gate.

Last week I wrote a post about some funny numbers going on with Poilievre’s justifications for the Fair Elections Act.  I’ve heard no response from the Minister of State’s office in that time.  Rest assured, I sat at home in the dark, crying into a glass of wine next to my telephone.  No such call came.

As Poilievre appears to think that concerns about the bill are flatly contradicted by two reports — a 2011 consultation paper from election expect Harry Neufeld, and a report from the Chief Electoral Officer on the 2008 election, I thought it might be worthwhile to read those reports.

Let me spoil the ending: they do not support the government’s bill.

Neufeld’s report was the one that identified all the “irregularities” that Poilievre cites as the catalyst for the bill.  He fashioned those numbers in a joust with which to do battle with the opposition:

“Averaged across 308 ridings, election officers made over 500 serious administrative errors per electoral district on Election Day.  Obviously, this is unacceptable.”


“We are going to protect Canadians against fraud,” Poilievre told the House.

Fraud, eh?

Well, as it turns out, the fraud that Poilievre loves to cite — that 25% “irregularity rate” — was analyzed by Neufeld in response to the lawsuit over the results in Etobicoke Centre.  That riding, of course, being the one where Tory MP Ted Opitz fought and won to preserve his victory, in the face of the Liberals’ insistence that he abused the vouching process to change the result of the election.

Funny, Poilievre appears to be agreeing with the Liberals — these irregularities constituted voter fraud and Opitz’s victory ought to be overturned.

Huh. Go figure.

But, alas, neither the courts nor Neufeld felt the same way.

“Throughout the Etobicoke Centre court case there was judicial agreement that, despite the presence of ‘irregularities,’ there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots,” Neufield writes.

That report, oft-cited by Poilievre in his defence of the Fair Elections Act, does not identify a single “irregularity” where a voter was at fault.  In every situation where an “irregularity” is identified, the report underlines that it is insufficient training or confusion on the part of the election official.

But Poilievre is right to point out that Neufeld’s report is quite critical of the current system.  He recommends, with Elections Canada concurring, that a complete overhaul of the electoral system must be done sometime after the 2015 election.

What to do before then?

“For 2015,” writes Nuefeld, “It is recommended that a series of modest legal amendments, along with substantial administrative modifications, be given priority to address non-compliance.”

What are those recommendations?

Minimize the need for registration and vouching on Election Day, namely by improving the electoral list and getting more voters registered; improve training and staffing to ensure that errors do not occur, including adding new staffing positions designed to deal exclusively with voters lacking ID; and eliminate provisions allowing campaigns to appoint electoral staff.

Elections Canada agreed, nearly entirely, with the recommendations.

The Fair Elections Act does not address a single recommendation from Neufeld.  Not a one.  Zero.  Zip.

In fact, Poilievre’s bill goes against the very core of the recommendations.



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On the issue of Voter Identification Cards, for example, Nuefeld recommends “widening use of the Voter Information Card as a valid piece of address identification for all voters.”  On vouching, the report suggests improving access to the procedure and improving the rules.

But, hark, this bill is the product of those recommendations.


“The bill would implement 38 of the recommendations that the Chief Electoral Officer made in his report on the 40th general election,” Poilievre assures us.

Did you catch that slight of hand?  The Minister of State cited an entirely different report to suggest that the government’s bill is in fitting with all the best advice that they’ve received.

See, that report, from Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, includes the recommendations around political financing and robocalls — uncontroversial recommendations which the government, rightfully, included in the bill.

The Chief Electoral Officer recommendations around vouching aren’t quite as clear as Neufeld’s.  Mayrand’s only analysis of vouching involved whether or not voters should be allowed to vouch for more than one of their family members — in effect, whether they should be expanded.

At the federal level, while the measures ushered in by the 2007 legislative amendments are working fairly well, it may be desirable to improve the system by allowing electors to vouch for more than one person if the latter are members of their immediate family,” CEO Marc Mayrand writes.

There is no consideration whatsoever as to abolishing vouching.

Let’s take a breath here to recap: the “fraud” that Poilievre has identified as a vote-nullifying force of evil in our system has been labelled emphatically as not actually being fraud.  The issues involving vouching stemmed from improperly-trained campaign workers — not from deceptive voters.  Poilievre has still not called me.  We clear?

Now, you may wonder why election officials are so clueless.  You know, how the facilitators of our democracy could be so plagued by bumbling incompetence that they could allow for a 25% error rate.

Well that may, perhaps, be because Elections Canada does not go through a formal hiring process for many of the front-line polling positions.  Instead, they take recommendations from the campaigns.  This is quite an old process — the campaign of the party that came first in the election prior recommends as many deputy returning officers as they’d like, whereas the candidate of the second-place party suggests the poll clerks.  They split the returning officers.

Neufeld’s report emphatically suggests getting rid of the political-appointment process for electoral workers as a way to improve the process and ensure quality-control.

Let’s be quite clear: allowing parties to appoint our electoral oversees would probably be a total non-starter in even the most sketchy Eastern Bloc proto-democracy.

What does the Fair Elections Act do?  It expands it, of course.

When the bill becomes law, the Electoral District Association (or, if it doesn’t exist, the political party of that candidate) will have the authority to make those staffing recommendations to Elections Canada.

Yes, a Toronto-or-Ottawa-based political party will now have the authority to appoint the little old lady who runs the voting process in Mabou, Nova Scotia, or Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Neufeld had another novel idea on how to fix the vouching process — fix our voting system.

One of the core ideas, dubbed the ‘New Brunswick model,’ would see polls eliminated entirely so that voters can go to a voting location, have their credentials verified — ideally, electronically — and simply vote at the first available table.  No more verifying that voters on the list for that specific poll (a system devised to ensure that voters’ names would be finable on paper lists) instead, just a verification that they are able to vote.

Considering that 40% of the errors involved in the vouching process were situations where the voucher was not found on the list for a specific poll, this could be a great way to cut down on those horrible irregularities that Poilievre continues to sabre-rattle about.

What’s more, electronic lists could eliminate just about every problem with vouching — it could ensure that vouchers are valid voters in the riding, and that they only vouched for one other person.  It would expand and improve our universal suffrage and reduce the number of Canadians turned away at the poll — a form of voter fraud we actually know exists.

But Poilievre did not include provisions allowing for that process in the Fair Elections Act.

The government has utterly failed to identify a single case of proven voter fraud caused by the vouching process.  They’ve relied on cherry-picked quotes from reports that they’ve otherwise cast aside and ignored, and they’ve shoved this bill into committee.

These two ideas — eliminating the Voter Information Card and vouching as facilitations for voters to cast their ballots — were never recommended by Elections Canada, nor its auditors.  As best I can tell, these ideas were dreamed up entirely by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre.

That isn’t good.


Other columns by Justin Ling

To Charte, or not to Charte?

Harper and the liberal journalists of Sparks Street

Harper’s Israeli Rorschach Test

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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