Changes to Canadian electoral law – how does it affect you?

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Essentially, Bill C-23 changes the rules for voters, candidates, parties and the people whose job it is to make sure elections are fair. Ottawa says it will boost penalties for offences, reduce voter fraud and empower political parties, as opposed to Elections Canada, to drive voter turnout. For some voters, it means it’ll be harder to cast a ballot – a voter will no longer be able to have someone vouch for his or her identity, a system the government argues is too vulnerable to fraud.

Political parties will also get an amalgamated list showing if you voted or not, but not who you voted for, while Elections Canada will no longer be able to run advertising campaigns encouraging people to vote. Who’s behind it? Pierre Poilievre – Canada’s Minister of State for Democratic Reform and, at 34, among the youngest faces in cabinet.

Mr. Poilievre has tirelessly stumped for the bill in interviews and in the House of Commons. His go-to line is that the bill gives investigators a “sharper teeth, longer reach and a freer hand.” Many of the changes are meant to reduce fraud and rein in Elections Canada, which he says has failed to boost voter turnout.

What are the changes?

There are a lot. If you have time on your hands and a knack for legalese, you can read the bill for yourself here and look at some of Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand’s more detailed objections here and here.

But we’ll give you the (kind of) short version. 1. Vouching Under the current rules, “vouching” is the sort of voter-ID catch-all. If you don’t have the proper ID, a voter in your polling area can vouch for you so you can still cast a ballot. The list of ways to vote is here. Yes, it raises a question: “Who doesn’t have any ID?” Roughly 120,000 voters in 2011 didn’t, or about 1 per cent of voters.

The Chief Electoral Officer says it’s often a case of someone who can prove their identity but not their current address, specifically – such as a student or someone who has moved. The bill also eliminates using a voter information card (the thing you get in the mail saying where to vote) as a way to corroborate where you live, which about 400,000 people did in 2011.

Axing these two options essentially raises the bar on what’s required to cast a ballot, though an extra day of advance voting is being added. Both the current and former chief electoral officer have called, unequivocally, for vouching to be kept, as have provincial and territorial counterparts.

The chief electoral officer of Ontario, which doesn’t have vouching but does allows use of the voter card, has said it’s best to have one if not the other. This proved to be a lightning rod for  controversy, and is one of the areas where the Conservatives (kind of) backed down. They’ll still axe vouching but will introduce an oath system instead – a voter who has ID, but can’t prove a current address, can sign an oath to where to they live. If another valid voter signs a second oath, essentially backing up the first voter’s address, the first voter is given a ballot. The NDP and Liberals supported the amendment, but more because it restored at least something – they warn people could still be turned away on voting day. (Courtesy of Globe & Mail)

 

 

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