Fair Elections Act changes will dis-empower senior voters

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/03/10/mcgregor-anderson-how-the-fair-elections-act-might-actually-hurt-the-tories-Add Contact Formin-2015/

First here is an excerpt from an article by Michael McGregor and Cameron Anderson, National Post | March 10, 2014 2:30 PM ET

Critics have largely focused on the effect that this change will have upon young voters, who tend to be relatively transient as they relocate for work or school. Largely overlooked is the fact that, according to Elections Canada’s research, the segment of the population that relies most heavily on VICs are seniors living in retirement residences and long-term care facilities. Elections Canada’s post-election report found that a majority of such individuals used VICs in 2011. 

Second here is part of the the testimony of Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs  on March 6 2014.

“Bill C-23 is a very important piece of legislation that touches upon practically every aspect of the electoral process. In this regard, it is the most comprehensive reform of the Canada Elections Act since it was completely overhauled in 2000.

    I would be less than transparent, and I would not do service to parliamentarians, if I did not share the full extent of my concerns with respect to the measures presented in Bill C-23, as well as those that, in my view, are missing. Of course, there are positive elements in the bill, as well as a range of technical improvements and clarifications that follow some of my previous recommendations. Unfortunately, the bill also includes measures that, in my opinion, undermine its stated purpose and will not serve Canadians well.

    Given the limited time available, I will focus on the aspects that I find most problematic. My officials will be available to provide a more comprehensive technical briefing to members from each caucus.

    The government has indicated that this bill will serve three main purposes: first, improving service to electors; second, providing clear and simple rules for everyone to follow; and third, most importantly, ensuring fair elections.

    In reviewing the bill today, I propose to look at it from the perspective of these three objectives to see whether and to what extent they are met.

[English]

    On improving service to electors, when we speak of service to electors, we must be careful not to let this terminology diminish in any way the importance of what is at stake. It is the responsibility of Parliament to provide, and it is my responsibility to administer, an electoral process that is accessible to all who wish to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

    Election day should be a time, and it may be the only time, when all Canadians can claim to be perfectly equal in power and influence, regardless of their income, health, or social circumstances. This can only be so if voting procedures are designed to accommodate not only those of us with busy schedules, but also and even more importantly, the more vulnerable and marginalized members of society.

    Bill C-23 proposes to modify voter identification rules by eliminating vouching and prohibiting the use of the voter information card, the VIC, as one of the documents that could be used to establish the elector’s address. We should keep in mind that it is only since 2007 that the law imposes on electors the obligation to provide evidence of their identity as well as of their address before they are allowed to vote.

    Currently, they can do this in one of three ways.

    They can present a government-issued piece of ID that includes their photo, name, and current address. In practice, this option is primarily limited to a driver’s licence. Approximately 86% of adults in Canada have a licence. This means that approximately four million do not have one, including 28%, or 1.4 million individuals over 65.

    Electors who don’t have a driver’s licence can produce two authorized pieces of ID, one of which must show their current residential address. While there are 38 such authorized pieces of identification, only 13 may include a current address.

    Finally, an elector without ID may, subject to certain requirements, be vouched for by another elector who has proper identification.

    Experience since 2007 shows that most Canadians do not have a problem complying with ID requirements. For some electors, however, this is a challenge, especially with respect to proving their current address.

    Let me give you some examples.

    In the case of seniors, it is not uncommon for one of the spouses to drive and to have all the bills in their name. Right now, the other spouse can be vouched for by their partner. Similarly, seniors living with their children often must be vouched for by one of their children in order to be able to vote.

    The reverse is also true. Young Canadians often live at home or, as students, move frequently. They sometimes have no documents to prove their current residential address.

    First nations electors on reserve also face challenges, as the Indian status card does not include address information.
  (1140)

    For many of these electors, vouching by another elector is the only option. Expanding the list of ID documents will not assist them in proving their address.

    The Neufeld report estimates that approximately 120,000 active voters in the last election relied on vouching, and we can expect that a significant proportion of them would not be able to vote under the rules proposed by Bill C-23.

    It has been pointed out that vouching is a complex procedure and that numerous procedural irregularities were found to have been committed at the last general election in connection with vouching. It is critical to understand that, as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, the vast majority of these were strictly record-keeping errors by poll workers documenting the vouching process, and not fraud or even irregularities that could compromise an election. There is no evidence tying these errors to ineligible electors being allowed to vote.

    Of course, vouching procedures should and can be simplified, as recommended by Mr. Neufeld. The need to rely on vouching should also be reduced. This is why Mr. Neufeld recommended expanding the use of the voter information card as an authorized document to establish address.

     It is worth noting that the VIC is the only document issued by the federal government that includes address information. The Canadian passport, for example, does not include an address. In fact, with an accuracy rate of 90%, the VIC is likely the most accurate and widely available government document. The VIC is based on regular updates from driver’s licence bureaus, the Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and various other authoritative sources….

    During the election period, revision activities at the local level also increase the accuracy of the VIC. This likely makes it a more current document than even the driver’s licence, which is authorized by law and used by the vast majority of voters.

     The VIC was authorized for voters in certain locations in 2011 based on the evaluation of the 2008 election, which showed that for some electors even vouching is not an available option.

     For example, seniors who live in long-term care facilities and who vote on site do not have driver’s licences, hydro bills, or even health cards, which are typically kept by their children or facility administrators. By law, they cannot be vouched for by other residents in the same poll who also lack adequate ID, and they cannot be vouched for by staff who do not reside there. In most cases, they can only rely on a letter of attestation issued by facility administrators, combined with another document such as an ID bracelet. Some administrators feel that they do not have the resources to issue such letters and in fact refuse to do so. For electors in that situation, the only document establishing their address is their voter information card.

    It is essential to understand that the main challenge for our electoral democracy is not voter fraud, but voter participation. I do not believe that if we eliminate vouching and the VIC as proof of address we will have in any way improved the integrity of the voting process. However, we will certainly have taken away the ability of many qualified electors to vote….”

http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6470820&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=2

 

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