Disenfranchising the disenfranchised

Linda couldn’t vote. The woman (who asked to remain anonymous) lives at the Stratford Hotel. She didn’t have the proper ID, and found…

Linda couldn’t vote.

The woman (who asked to remain anonymous) lives at the Stratford Hotel.

She didn’t have the proper ID, and found out too late that she’d need a letter from hotel staff to cast her ballot.

“I live on this land; I’m First Nation, and I’ve voted in every past election,” said Linda.

“I’ve even voted by proxy when I was living in Vancouver.”

It’s not a fair election, she said.

“My feet are still on this land, it’s still my country — even if I was squatting in the bush, or living in a hole in the ground — it’s still my country and I have a right to vote.”

Changes to voting regulations were introduced in late 2006.

“And they blew it the first time around,” said Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher from Ottawa.

The initial changes required voters to show a piece of ID with a residential address.

“But there are tons of people living in the country all across Canada who only have PO box numbers,” said Conacher.

The regulations were amended, but still leave a number of voters disenfranchised.

Homeless voters could go to polling stations with letters from shelter staff, or have someone vouch they are who they say they are and swear an oath, but most voters didn’t realize there had been changes until election day, when it was too late.

“Federal politicians have purposely created a new barrier to voting when voter turnout is dropping,” said Conacher.

And it’s not just the homeless who were affected.

University students across the country, who had yet to receive mail at their new abodes with their name and address on it, or who shared utility bills, also couldn’t vote.

The BC Civil Liberties Association is launching a charter challenge against the government because of it.

Yukoners heading Outside for school, who come from the communities or the fringes of Whitehorse and don’t have residential addresses, were also shut out of special ballot voting, said Yukon Elections Canada returning officer Sue Edelman.

“I’ve heard anecdotally that people were unable to vote at the polling station and during advance polling because they didn’t have adequate ID,” added Edelman.

But the Yukon still had the highest voter turnout in Canada, she said.

Edelman ran a strong public education campaign to get people voting at advance polls and let them know what ID was required, she said.

Elections Canada also sent out info, but it looked like junk mail, said Conacher.

“They should have phased the changes in, so if an election was called a year after the changes they wouldn’t apply. And there should have been ads on TV to let people know about the changes.”

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was the lowest in Canadian history.

And people being turned away at the polls was part of that, said Conacher.

‘They just blew it.

“It should just be one piece of ID with your name and address on it, and if you don’t have an address then the shelter should be able to say, ‘You’re homeless in this riding.’”

Making voter regulations more rigorous is “a move that has been used in the States by the Republicans to put up barriers to people who are unlikely to vote Republican,” said Conacher.

“And people with low incomes and students are unlikely to vote Conservative, the polls show that, and I think that is part of why the Conservatives introduced the bill.”

It’s a fiasco, he said.

“They claimed they were trying to solve issues of voter fraud, but there were no problems with voter fraud,” he said.

“So now they’ve created a greater problem than the nonexistent one. And that’s the definition of stupid government policy.”