Canadians across the country are complaining they’re having a hard time casting their ballots, and they’re placing the blame squarely on the Conservative government’s changes to the elections process.
The Council of Canadians (COC) said its voter suppression “hotline” received more than 200 complaints after advance polls opened over the long weekend.
“We’re still looking through them in finer detail, but it’s clear so far that there seems to have been an impact from the Fair Elections Act in terms of an array of challenges people are having with ID,” spokesman Dylan Penner told Yahoo Canada News.
Critics have called it the “Unfair Elections Act” because some of its provisions disenfranchise large numbers of voters — namely, disallowing the use of voter information cards (VICs) as proof of address and tightening the requirements for “vouching” (one voter vouching for the identity of another). The COC said 400,000 people relied on VICs and 120,000 used vouching to vote in 2011.
Advocacy group Democracy Watch says the Act “unfairly increases voter ID requirements, making it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of people to vote.”
According to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the stricter ID policy will inordinately affect students, First Nations people and seniors living in retirement homes, who for various reasons can lack the proper paperwork — two approved documents, at least one of which contains a name, address and photo, like a driver’s licence.
Penner said some voters who contacted VoteWatch complained they had to use attestation — getting someone to swear an oath verifying their identity and address — in order to vote at the advance polls. And they nearly didn’t have that option because the Conservatives originally proposed to do away with vouching altogether but reversed course and left the attestation option in.
“It’s more of a convoluted process (than vouching). And because of the changes, not everyone’s familiar that there is this process in place,” Penner said.
Other voters ended up being turned away because time ran out at their polling station — a function of the large voter turnout coupled with the “extra hurdles” in identification, Penner said.
Earlier this month, the new ID rules delayed former Nova Scotia Liberal Party Leader Vince MacLean from voting because he didn’t have the required identification, according to a CBC report.
The measures, the government said, are aimed at cracking down on “voter fraud.”
But the real fraud was the Tories’ own voter suppression tactics last election, the COC says. The Conservatives were accused of orchestrating a campaign of “robocalls” that misdirected thousands of opposition supporters to incorrect polling stations.
In August 2014 former Conservative staffer Michael Sona was found guilty of one violation of the Elections Act and sentenced to nine months in prison for his role in the robocalls. He is appealing the sentence.
The COC has teamed up with the Canadian Federation of Students to challenge the new ID requirements, and other elements of the Act, in court. The case won’t be heard until after the Oct. 19 election.
The NDP tried to block the legislation from being passed, and Leader Tom Mulcair has vowed to reverse the Tories’ changes and replace them with a Voter Protection Act.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said he would repeal the Fair Elections Act if elected prime minister.
Elections Canada has said previously it will not comment on specific cases, and that it simply administer the laws passed by Parliament.