Could a Harper election win be challenged?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign event in Ottawa, Canada September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie – RTSPTJ

On election day — October 19 — make sure to bring extra pieces of ID. But if you’re one of those unfortunate voters who gets rejected, you may still get another chance to cast your ballot.

That’s because there is an outside chance the courts could scrap the election results should the Conservatives win; meaning the election may need to be rerun.

If your eyebrows are now raised and you’re leaning toward the screen, here’s the story. It all started when the Harper Government came up with the Fair Elections Act — formerly known as Bill C-23 — to deter voter fraud.

Previously, your voter information card was sufficient as proof of residency, enabling you to vote. The Act, however, says that’s not enough; additional ID is required for voting.

The result is possible disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians including many aboriginals, ex-patriots, Canadian students studying abroad, the homeless, individuals with disabilities, and seniors. These are groups who may not hold a valid driver’s license or any other federally-issued ID to present at voting polls. An estimated 770,000 Canadians may not be able to vote thanks to the new restrictions.

Two groups — the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students — went to the Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice last year to seek an injunction demanding the voter information card be accepted as proof of residency. The court dismissed the injunction, but acknowledged that some citizens may not get to vote if they are solely counting on their voter information card as ID.

An injunction is a court order that that forces the defendant — an individual, corporation or government entity — to perform an act or refrain from or to cease doing something. When granting an injunction, the courts often assess whether the plaintiff’s rights will be irreparably harmed if the defendant is not ordered to stop doing something.

Even though the injunction was not granted, the two groups are planning to revive their challenge of the Conservative government’s ID restriction if Harper should prevail again. Their argument is that the Act violates the Charter. Essentially, the Charter guarantees the right to vote, not the right to vote only if one has the right type of ID. The two groups are also demanding the Commissioner of Elections report to Parliament. The commissioner reports to the government only under the current set up.

If the court challenge is successful and the ID restrictions are found to be an unreasonable limit on Canadians' right to vote, things can get crazy pretty fast. The courts may order for the election to be rerun in certain ridings, if the margin of victory is small and the number of people whose votes did not count is reasonably large.

Overall, this is bad news for the Conservatives. The Fair Elections Act appears to be far from its name and it’s easily inviting a Charter challenge.

Voters are encouraged to carry additional pieces of ID and advise others to bring more than their voter information card. No one wants to stand in a long line only to hear people scream: “What do you mean I can’t vote?”

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