HP Blog: Fair Elections Act Could Hurt Homeless Voters

02-28-14

*CWPs blog on the Huffington Post Canada website re-posted

At the heart of democracy is the right to choose our government by casting a ballot. From the establishment of our political process in Canada, to the fight for the right of women and Aboriginal peoples to vote, participation in the political system is entrenched in the fabric of Canada and is a value of democracy that we cherish; it represents what some others in the world hope for. For this reason, changes proposed in the Fair Elections Act are top of debate, particularly when one of the proposed changes could dramatically hinder access to the polls for our country’s most vulnerable people.

Under the proposed Act, the option of voter vouching is on the chopping block. This is a process whereby a person can “vouch” for the identity of another person at a polling station as long as particular rules are followed. The person confirming the identity of someone else must use the same polling station and must have adequate ID to prove they are who they say they are. Both individuals must sign a declaration as well. Individuals without appropriate ID, including homeless people, have relied on this option in order to vote.

Elections Canada describes voter vouching in this way, “Take an oath and have an elector who knows you vouch for you (both of you will be required to make a sworn statement). This person must have authorized identification and their name must appear on the list of electors in the same polling division as you. This person can only vouch for one person and the person who is vouched for cannot vouch for another elector. Examples: a neighbour, your roommate.”

Under the Fair Elections Act voter vouching would be completely eliminated. The federal government posted a backgrounder on the Act on their website and pointed to the fact that voters would still have 39 forms of identification to choose from in order to vote. Options range from a bank card to government cheque stub to a health card or driver’s license.

A library card in combination with another form of ID would also be accepted. While it seems simple enough for someone to get a library card seeing as they tend to be issued for free (if you have an address and live in an urban centre with this facility), you have to consider rural areas of the country, access to transportation, and exceptional circumstances where a person is unexpectedly without ID (ie: women fleeing domestic violence and leaving identification behind). It doesn’t seem ‘fair’ to deny these individuals the right to vote when they choose to exercise that right.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. While the Fair Elections Act doesn’t trump the Charter and render the right to vote for these groups null and void, the EFFECT of the Act could be just that. The Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand reported in a CTV news article that removing vouch voting could affect over 100,000 people — particularly those who are Aboriginal and live on a reserve.

People who are homeless, whether on the streets, couch surfing or living somewhere temporarily, are also at risk of losing their ability to vote if voter vouching is dismantled. As the London Homeless Coalition pointed out in a press release, people who are homeless can experience theft, or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability. This shouldn’t hold them back from voting.

“Irregularities” have been noted with respect to voter vouching in the last election according to a report commissioned by Elections Canada. These irregularities are being touted by the current government as a reason to end voter vouching, however, the report actually states that these issues were ‘administrative’ and made by elections workers — not by voters themselves. In court cases that preceded the report, both the Ontario Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that, “there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots.”

Also, the report’s author Harry Neufeld was quoted as saying that vouching should continue to be offered and the process can be adjusted, for example by requiring the vouch-provider to present two pieces of ID, better training of elections workers and/or a more simplified process.

If the discussion is about fairness, then ensuring all citizens can participate in the electoral process should be a top priority. This includes keeping a system of voter vouching. Not only is it the right thing to do, but democracy depends on it.

To view the original blog post click here.