One week from now, we will know with absolute certainty who the next government will be, whether or not it will last is another question all together. Still, the real question is whether or not the events of 2011 will repeat themselves, specifically, whether or not someone will try to disrupt the democratic process like one Pierre Poutine, who remains at large. University of Guelph Emeritus Professor Michael Keefer also has concerns, but fears it maybe too late to do anything about them.
“This is obviously speculative, but we have a government that has shown its hand very clearly on voter suppression and the Fair Elections Act,” Keefer said to me on the phone from his Toronto home. Of particular concern for Keefer is a provision in the F.E.A. to allow cell phones and other electronic devices in polling places, and the creation of a phone app that allows Conservative volunteers to access their voter database. “The information that was provided by the Manning Centre about this app I felt was peculiarly uninformative.”
So what’s the concern about political operatives and scrutineers being able to access their list of supporters in the polling station? Challenging particular voters and their right to vote, said Keefer. “It seems to me that one has a constellation that fits together rather neatly,” he explained. “If you’re planning to do lots of identity challenges, you’re in some danger of having your scrutineer just pitched out of the polling station. But on the other hand, if you have scrutineers making challenges on what appears to be plausible bases, it’s different than simply jumping in and challenging this person.”
I asked Keefer if Elections Canada employees could then act if a scrutineer is being too proactive in their challenges. “There are cases where that happened in the last election,” he said pointing to the case of an Etobicoke Centre polling stating in a seniors home that was allegedly disrupted by three people including the campaign manager of Conservative Ted Opitz.
“Properly instructed elections officials would have told them to leave, and that if they didn’t leave they’d call the police,” Keefer continued. “The problem of lack of information probably applies in several ways. Elections Canada’s people are perhaps vulnerable to being manipulated by well-instructed, well-trained, and determined scrutineers who are out to gum up the works.”
One note of concern was the group Voter Outreach, which is also sometimes known as the Responsive Marketing Group, both of which have been investigated by regulatory authorities due their fundraising.
“Under its new name it seems that they’ve been gathering information about whether or not people know what riding they’re now in,” Keefer said, adding that while he doesn’t know how that could figure into a voter suppression scam, “that seemed like something that really invited investigation, which I haven’t been able to do. Why would someone be interested in that?”
Keefer is also suspicious of the Fair Elections Act and its stated intention to end voter fraud. According to the professor, there have only been a total of 18 cases of fraud documented in the last two elections. Still, in most of those cases there was no malicious intent. “Harry Neufeld the former chief electoral officer of BC said that the majority of cases of voter fraud are people people that are slipping into dementia and don’t remember having voted the first time,” he said.
In the meantime, Keefer is concerned that the new I.D. rules in will have a greater than estimated impact on whether or not people will come out to vote. A Texas report, for example, revealed new voter I.D. restrictions were even dissuasive to those that had the proper I.D. Meanwhile at Dalhousie in 2008, it’s been revealed that two-thirds of the students that attempted to vote were turned away. “This was testimony prepared for that court case that was trying to undo the Fair Elections Act,” said Keefer, “a student union official who said this is what he was told be an Elections Canada official.”
As to the odds of another nation-wide voter suppression scheme, I thought about whether or not if there’s been any hints about what might be coming in terms of behaviour already witnessed. Nuisance calls late at night, and sign vandalism are typical forms of voter suppression in an election, and while there hasn’t been much news about such activities in this election, there wasn’t much news about them pre-Election Day in 2011 either.
“I haven’t heard reports of anything like the harassment calls in the 2011 elections,” he explained.
“You have something like 550,000 of each call [nuisance and faux-Elections Canada] made during that campaign. If you average out evenly, you have an average 2,000 harassment calls in each of those 261 ridings. You think, that was below the radar of the local media and the national media for most of this campaign. If there’s something going on in the campaign it’s under the radar.”
“Generally no announcements of fraudulent activities should be a good sign,” Keefer added, but he admits that for the 400,000 people that can’t user their voter I.D. cards as identification this election, and for the 120,000 who can’t vote using vouching, things have hardly improved. “What I think it could mean in part, and it could mean just being unduly negative, is that the Conservatives feel they’ve been successful to a considerable degree legalizing voter suppression.”