Tonight the feds vote on the Fair Elections Act, the bill that has the lofty aim of ending voter fraud once and for all and ensuring proper elections for generations to come, so say the Conservatives. The Liberals and NDP have instead suggested that it will lock the poor and minorities out of polling stations, and actually just ensure a Conservative victory in 2015. We have written a lot about the Fair Elections Act, but today we’ll dissect the final bill, amendments and all, and try to shed some light on this contentious piece of work. After nearly 300 amendments, here is what’s new with the bill. Decide for yourself if it’s a Good Elections Act.
One of Bill C-23’s original planks was the elimination of the “vouching provision.” Historically, someone could vote without ID or proof of residence as long as someone else vouched that they are who they say they are and live where they claim to live. The Conservatives argued that this pinky-swear promise counted for nothing, and that the practice should be abolished. The NDP countered that there were only a handful of documented cases of voter fraud, but the Conservatives maintained that it was only because there’s no way to catch the fraud if it’s happening. Those most affected would be those who could prove who they were (driver’s license, healthcare card, etc), but not their current address (students, people who move a lot, the homeless). The work-around amendment allows someone who can prove their identity to vote even without proof of residence, as long as someone…vouches for them. So, first broad change, you’ll need some form of ID to vote.
Next, in order to streamline the donation system, the bill removed the obligation from parties to claims donations over $20 as elections expenses, as long as the donor had given to that party within the past 5 years. The logic was that if a particular donor had already been documented, why bother doing it again? This provision was obviously beneficial to parties with larger donor bases, and clearly an invitation for fraud (see pinky-swear promises, above), and was cut from the final bill.
However, plenty of other things the opposition hated stayed in the bill. Notably, the bill allows elected MPs to select the workers at polling stations in their district (while whoever came in 2nd would select the poll clerks). As well, the Chief Electoral Officer will not be able to compel testimony from witnesses. This brings the CEO down to the level of any regular police force (and punishment for refusing to self-incriminate is pretty rough), however it makes investigating future electoral crimes quite a bit more difficult. As well, the CEO will now only serve a 10 year term, instead of the usual lifetime appointment. Plus, the Chief Electoral Officer can now only speak on 5 subjects (how to vote/how to become a candidate), and Elections Canada can no longer encourage Canadians to vote. This is, notably, the first time that the NDP wants to give a CEO more powers.
At the same time, the bill bans the Voter Identification Cards (which do have an astounding 7% error rate – 1.6 million), and gives all major parties access to a database of who voted in the past election. Finally, campaign donation limits are going up, and the bill creates a registry of all robocall data, in order to simplify the process of investigating a party or candidate for inappropriate robocalls. Somehow it’s not surprising that the word robocall was repeated a lot in the debate surrounding this bill…
The bill finished its third reading today and is up for a vote tonight. Despite how much of a huge mystery the result of the vote will be in light of the Conservative majority, doesn’t make this bill any less important.