Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The "Fair Elections Act"

    Yesterday I wrote to my MP to register my opposition to the government's proposed "Fair Elections Act". I have edited out the portions specific to my MP, and post the rest here:

I write to express my profound opposition to the Fair Elections Act, which seems to have been drafted for the purpose of further freeing the government from the obligation to listen to its citizens. While I am concerned about the whole bill, the part that most upsets me is the attempt to tighten identification requirements and remove the ability to vouch for one's neighbours, because erecting barriers will prevent some eligible voters from voting. I have worked as a deputy returning officer in elections, and had to turn away people who had forgotten their wallets, or whose temporary drivers licenses did not show their current address, or who for whatever reason simply didn't have the paperwork needed to prove they were able to vote. The point here is that whatever rules you have, some people will occasionally be prevented from exercising their legitimate right to vote, and the tighter you make those rules, the more legitimate voters will be prevented from voting.

Now, you will argue that these rules aren't intended to prevent legitimate ballots, but rather to prevent illegitimate ones. Okay, I agree that it's important to prevent illegitimate ballots from being cast. But is it worth preventing legitimate ballots, and if so, how many? If we manage to prevent one person from voting illegally, well, that's good, but is it good enough to outweigh the bad of preventing another person from voting legally? How many false positives are worth how many true positives?

I submit that it does MUCH more harm to the integrity of our democracy to exclude the voice of one legitimate voters than it does to hear the voice of one illegitimate one. The current rules are more than adequate to prevent ballot stuffing, and the only illegitimate voters casting ballots today (if any) are people who have a genuine connection to Canadian democracy, but may not vote for some technical reason: they're just shy of their 18th birthday, or they moved to the riding just short of 6 months ago, or they came to Canada as landed immigrants as infants and don't even realize they're not citizens. Rules are rules, and of course these people should not expect to be permitted to vote if they are ineligible, but if there is doubt as to their status, I say it is better to risk counting a technically illegitimate ballot than to risk excluding a legitimate one.

It is hard to ignore the similarities between this bill, aimed at tightening up identification requirements for voting, and the Republican push for stricter voter ID laws in the U.S. There is little doubt that such attempts to limit the franchise in the U.S. have been driven by partisan advantage; indeed, you can look at the records of state legislature debates to prohibit felons from voting and see that it was sometimes explicitly intended to prevent blacks from voting, when coupled with a campaign to charge blacks with "vagrancy". More recently, legislators have tried to be more careful in framing the justification for ID laws, but the intent in the land of gerrymandering still shines through; the voters most likely to have trouble coming up with the right ID are also those least likely to vote Republican.

Is it truly a coincidence that the Fair Elections Act will introduce a number of changes that just happen to favour the party in power? I want to believe it is. I want to believe that you genuinely care about preserving and enhancing our democratic governance. I want to believe that it honestly hadn't occurred to you just how insidiously this bill undermines our democracy. 

I urge you to vote against this inherently corrupting bill.

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