Don’t disenfranchise Yukon voters

Don't disenfranchise Yukon voters Open letter to MP Ryan Leef: As a citizen, a voter and a constituent, I was extremely disappointed to read your defense of the Fair Elections Act in last Wednesday's paper. While I have neither the pages nor the patien

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

As a citizen, a voter and a constituent, I was extremely disappointed to read your defense of the Fair Elections Act in last Wednesday’s paper.

While I have neither the pages nor the patience to respond to all of this misleading spin in detail, your promise that this bill will “crack down on voter fraud” deserves greater scrutiny. This is because the reforms being proposed to address this “threat” – eliminating Voter Information Cards (VICs) and vouching at the polls – will profoundly impact Yukon voters.

VICs were mailed to almost 24 million eligible voters in the 2011 federal election, providing proof of address – a voting requirement – for Canadians who might not have access to other voting ID with this information. According to Elections Canada, VICs were used extensively in that election by First Nations voters on aboriginal reserves (36 per cent), students on university campuses (62 per cent) and seniors in long-term care facilitates (73 per cent) – all demographic groups that face significant identification-related barriers to electoral participation.

As for vouching, over 120,000 Canadians relied on a neighbour to confirm their identity at the polls last federal election. For voters, the vouching process is typically a frustrating experience born from extraordinary circumstances; most don’t expect to use the process until they arrive at a polling station and realize that they have no other alternative.

For electoral staff, it is one of the most complicated voting procedures, and often results in administrative errors or “irregularities” in documenting the vouching process. But despite the inconvenience and administrative complexity of vouching, more often than not it successfully enables an “honest vote” to be cast that would have otherwise been discounted.

The central argument made by the government for eliminating VICs and vouching is that they are especially vulnerable to voter fraud. In my view, if voter fraud were occurring frequently enough to overshadow the enhanced electoral participation that these identification methods provide, there would be serious grounds to question their use in future elections. But the government must prove, with evidence and reasonable argument, that voter fraud is a real and serious problem. So far, its efforts have been utterly unconvincing.

For example, the government’s claim that “inaccuracies” make VICs susceptible to voter fraud are not credible: according to Elections Canada, VICs have an information accuracy rate of 90 per cent, and are more likely than a driver’s license to list a correct address. Similarly, the government’s efforts to paint vouching irregularities with brushstrokes of voter fraud is misleading, and ignores a recent Supreme Court ruling (Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj, 2012) affirming that irregularities alone are no proof of such conduct.

Instead of addressing these (and many other) criticisms directly, your letter simply reiterated the government’s partisan messaging, poorly-reasoned arguments and exaggerated evidence.

The risk of voter fraud suggested by this rhetoric is not backed by enough evidence to justify the elimination of voter identification that actively enables greater electoral participation.

Supporting this bill, and the elimination of VICs and vouching, will serve only to disenfranchise Yukon voters.

Stephen Roddick

Whitehorse

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