On October 5th a team from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europes Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights sent a six person team to Ottawa to monitor our federal election. They are here to track the implications of the new Fair Elections Act as well as to report on campaign financing and systemic issues such as robocalling. The last time a team was sent to monitor a Canadian election was 2006.
There have been significant changes to election laws due to the Fair Elections Act. Critics claim that some of the changes will result in fewer students, seniors, the poor, the homeless and aboriginal people registering to vote. Other changes include the fact that voter registration cards can no longer be used as a form of identification and that a citizen can now only vouch for one person. In this election people will need a piece of photo ID which includes a current address or two pieces of ID, one with a photo and one with a current address.
In 2011, more than 400,000 Canadians used the voter identification cards and more than 40,000 citizens used vouching in order to cast a vote.
The changes to how elections are run were needed to prevent voter fraud, according to Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre. Yet Harry Neufeld, the author of a report cited by the minister to support the changes to election identification, has stated that nowhere in his report is there any claim of deliberate voter fraud. Mr. Neufeld is the former chief elections officer for British Columbia and has also stated that he expects a rash of court challenges due to the election changes.
Most interesting is the fact that the Act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute those accused of election fraud. It does not provide the commissioner with the power to compel witnesses to testify in cases of alleged voter fraud and requires those being investigated to receive written notification telling them they are under investigation.
In a few short days the election will be over. It will be interesting to see if the Fair Elections Act has actually facilitated a more fair election and how the Supreme Court of Canada rules eventually on its legality.