Canadian federal party leaders shaking hands with election debate moderator, Montreal Oct 2, 2015 REUTERS/Joel Lemay/Pool
'Tis the trick or treat season.
Don’t be fooled by a phone call that says you don’t have to vote because your preferred candidate has already won. It’s just a dirty trick to stop you from voting. Read this article and your voter information card carefully, go to the right polling station, and cast that ballot with a smile.
Earlier this year, Elections Canada put together a presentation to warn its staff about increasingly creative voter suppression techniques that originate from south of the border. It was one of these dirty tricks —robocalling— that got Michael Sona, former Conservative Party worker, convicted of an electoral offence. He was part of a scheme that misdirected voters in Guelph, Ont., to phony poll stations during the 2011 election. He was sentenced to nine months in jail and one year of probation.
Elections Canada says voter suppression is done in four stages: identifying non-supporters; gathering information on them; using tricks to prevent them from going to the polls; and finally contesting eligibility at the polls without reasonable grounds.
Voters may get phony mail or phone calls telling them they are not eligible to vote. Alternatively, voters may receive communication that recommends voting on the day after the election for more convenience. Voters may also be instructed go to poll stations that don’t exist. There have even been cases where individuals received phone calls advising them not to vote because their favourite candidate has already won.
You may be scratching your head at this point, but it’s important to stay alert to these forms of communication around election time. In the United States, there were instances where voters received flyers highlighting “jail time for illegal voters.” This is a method of intimidating voters who are unsure of ID requirements or their registration status.
Voter suppression techniques don’t stop here. Some tactics may be utilized at no other place than the polls themselves. For instance, voters’ registration cards and ID may be challenged unreasonably resulting in long lines. A candidate’s campaign material may be located in very close proximity to the polling station, or placed strategically near the ballot box to sway votes.
The above tricks are often geared towards seniors and new immigrants. While these two groups generally take a keen interest in exercising they right to vote, they may be more vulnerable to misinformation.
The Canada Elections Act lists a number of offences related to obstruction of the electoral process, bribing, and intimidation among other things. The maximum penalty for the offence of intimidation is $50,000, five years in jail, or both.
In 2014, the Conservative government passed the Fair Elections Act, which amended the Elections Act in significant ways. For example, new provisions were added requiring robocalling companies and parties that hire them to keep a recording of each call and a record of when they were made. These records are to be kept for at least three years.
It will be interesting to see how the October 19th election will unfold and how many instances of electoral malpractice will come to light.
If you receive questionable mail or phone calls or witness other instances of potential voter fraud, file a complaint on Elections Canada website or phone them at 1-800-463-6868.
A well-informed voter will not easily fall victim to cheap trickery. It doesn’t hurt to approach electoral communications with caution.