Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blocking the vote

The CP reports that as the NDP warned all along, the Cons' Canada Election Act amendments designed to make voting more difficult appear likely to affect much of their own base more than anybody. And months after the fact, they're just now trying to fix their avoidable mistakes:
Recent changes to the federal Elections Act will wind up disenfranchising more than 1 million rural voters, Canada's elections watchdog warns.

Just four months ago in a bid to clamp down on voter fraud, Parliament amended the Canada Elections Act to require that each voter produce proof of identity and residential address before being allowed to cast a ballot.

But Elections Canada now says more than one million rural Canadians do not have a proper residential or civic address - complete with street name and number - as envisaged by the legislation.

Rural addresses are more often post office boxes. On native reserves, a resident's address is sometimes simply the name of the reserve.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus is one of those who stands to be disenfranchised. His driver's licence lists his address as Mileage 104, a reference to the original distance markers on the railway line through northern Ontario indicating that he's 104 miles from Timmins.

In a report to political parties, Elections Canada says 4.4 per cent of eligible Canadian voters do not have the legally required residential address. The problem is most acute in the northern territories, where over 80 per cent of Nunavut voters don't have a residential address.

Among the provinces, voters in Saskatchewan would be the hardest hit, with potentially 27 per cent being refused the right to vote because they have no proper residential address

(Peter) Van Loan characterized the problem as an oversight and called on all parties to "enthusiastically support efforts to correct this deficiency."

Should the minority Tory government be defeated before further amendments can be introduced to rectify the problem, Van Loan said the chief electoral officer has assured him that he's prepared to use "his adaptation power to ensure that no Canadian loses their right to vote" in the ensuing election.

Angus said he raised the concern about rural addresses when the amendments were being considered last spring. He said all other parties dismissed or ignored his concerns and only the NDP opposed the bill in the end...

NDP Leader Jack Layton accused the Liberals and Conservatives of only belatedly caring about the rights of rural voters.

"Now we see this law was a bad law and other parties that supported these changes are now trying to scramble to fix the problems that we flagged at the outset."
It would have been the ultimate irony if the Cons' quest for a majority this fall had died in urban/rural split seats where their own electoral changes had prevented supporters from voting. But the Cons don't figure to take long to re-enfranchise rural voters while looking for a way to exclude the urban transient voters who were presumably their target all along - at least, if either the Libs or the Bloc decide to once again go along blindly with the Cons' electoral measures.

It certainly doesn't look like the Cons have learned anything given that they're now brazen enough to say that what the NDP had pointed out from the beginning should be classified as an "oversight" because they (and the other parties) didn't bother to listen. But the story should offer another prime example of why it's long past time for the other parties and Canadians in general to start paying far more attention to what the NDP has to say - and spending far less time cleaning up the messes that result when they don't.

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