Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voting - good, bad, ugly

I voted for the first time in Canada in this month's federal election. Some of the good things compared to the US included that I had no problem registering at the polling place on election day, that lines were very short when I went, and that the ballot was paper and was very simple to read (big type!) and to mark (big X).

Not everyone had it as smooth as I did, however. One senior auntie was upset because her polling place had been moved from the one closest to her house to one farther away. Another was sent home from the polls to get something with her address on it before she could vote. Always before she had been able to just show up and vote. This time, she had heard she would need i.d., but she didn't realize she would have to show two i.d.'s, at least one with her address on it. She also was not permitted to use her Care Card as i.d. - something that was not published anywhere. As she has no driver's license, she was told to bring a bill from home with her name on it. If she didn't have any bills in her own name, would she have been able to vote?

For people without all that proper i.d., a registered voter who knows the person is supposed to be able vouch for them. But an auntie told me she was only permitted to vouch for one person - a second person she knew who had the same problem was turned away without being able to vote.*

The requirement to show i.d. with your address was reported to have disenfranchised many homeless people in Vancouver, and I expect someone in the anti-poverty field may try to take this to court. But in general, I think Canadians are fairly unsuspecting about election rigging and this could be an early sign of it crossing the border from the U.S. Purging voters of a particular political leaning has gone very far in the U.S. recently. Among the films that document this is Stealing America: Vote by Vote, a new feature-length release by award-winning California documentarian Dorothy Fadiman. You can view that entire 90-minute film online here:

STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote from Concentric Media on Vimeo.

Another disturbing sign in Canada was reported in a Canadian TV news program I saw in the last year or so, which explained that the Conservative Party maintains a large and sophisticated database that includes answers people on the voter rolls have given to questions about their political opinions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that homeless people are less likely than average to vote Conservative, but with such data it can be possible to target voter obstruction in a more sophisticated manner. Mt. Pleasant is in Libby Davies' Van East riding, and she won handily again.

Recently I interviewed the president of the Simon Fraser Student Society and we discussed the online voting system used for the first time in their last election. He pooh-pooed my concern that electronic voting is more subject to rigging than paper balloting, said voting electronically was modernization, and cited instances of known paper ballot rigging. I wish I had had this quote from the Fadiman film to tell him then: "It takes a long time to change 10,000 paper ballots by hand; it takes seconds to change 10,000 electronically."

At the conclusion of this film is a segment showing that the US state of New Mexico recently passed a law mandating a return to paper ballots statewide - the reason being, that with paper you have something to re-count. With electronic voting, the answer is only blowing in the wind.

*Votes cast in 2008 in Van East were 41,369, with 270 being rejected ballots. In 2006 there were 42,494 ballots cast, with 200 being rejected ballots. In 2006, Libby Davies (NDP) won by 56.6%; in 2008, by 54.4%. This proves nothing, aside from the fact that it doesn't contradict a hypothesis that vote totals may have been diminished this year by people being turned away from the polls.

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