Libby on voter fairness

In December 2008, I wrote to Elections Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer to convey my concerns about the many problems voters faced in the last federal election because of changes made to the Elections Act under Bill C-31. The new laws require photo I.D. and restrict the use of vouching for people who aren’t on the voters list. Hundreds of people in East Van had problems because of these changes.

I raised these issues again with the Chief Electoral Officer at the Parliamentary Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Below is an excerpt from my questions at the Committee.

Parliamentary Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
May 26, 2009

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to the witnesses and their CEO for coming today.

I want to follow up on an issue I’ve raised many times before, and that has to do with voter identification. I know you got a number of submissions from MPs. We certainly sent one from Vancouver East. This goes back to Bill C-31. I don’t want to lay it at your feet, because you didn’t suggest it. But you have to live with it.

I want to reiterate that I think the system, as it is now, which was supposedly brought in to deal with all of this voter fraud that doesn’t really exist, has created so many difficulties. We gave you one example of a man who had lived in our riding for more than 80 years and had voted all of his life there. He didn’t have the right ID and was turned away even though a scrutineer who had known him for 30 years through a community centre was there. She couldn’t vouch for him because she lived in the next poll to him. He waited for someone to show up who was in the same poll. He waited an hour and a half. And this was someone very elderly. That’s just one example. We had so many examples. It was very frustrating and a very difficult day.

I have a couple of questions. I know that you will report back to the committee, based on the general election, with your recommendations, both legislative and administrative. So I want to ask you if you contemplate making changes now that we’ve had this first experience with the new rules to improve it. And secondly, even if you don’t make legislative recommendations, what will you do in terms of the capacity?

It seems to me that because of the new rules, we experience–and I’m sure this is true for many ridings, but certainly in the urban areas and in inner-city areas where there were huge problems with the whole ID–the lineups, the lack of staff, resources, the lack of translation, and just the bottleneck that was created coming through the door of people who didn’t have ID and there weren’t enough resources to send them over to another place in the electoral voting place. So even from a capacity point of view, a resourcing point of view, if nothing changes in the law and we have to deal with this again, we’ve got to change the way it works at the local poll. Otherwise, we’re building in a level of frustration and even anger among voters for no good reason; they really are eligible to vote but just don’t have the proper ID requirements.

There’s sort of the macro level in terms of legislation, if you’re going to do anything there, but even if you’re not, what are we going to do, then, at a capacity level in terms of resourcing?

Mr. Marc Mayrand: That’s a very complex question, which I will first bring back to the committee, with the evaluation report to come later this summer. You will find out in there that, generally, the system worked well, but that there definitely were some groups of electors who were affected. My focus will be to see how we can better serve those electors.
In terms of the capacity, one of the points I made in February was that it is less a capacity issue than it is being captive of very prescriptive legislation that sets out very specifically who does what on the poll side, and which does not allow much flexibility in how you organize tasks. It sets out how many electors should be in a poll. It sets out certain minimums/maximums for a poll.

My short answer is that without a reconsideration of some of the prescription in the statute, it’s going to be very difficult to significantly improve service at the polling station.

Ms. Libby Davies: Do you contemplate that you will recommend changes to deal even with that aspect, then, of how prescriptive it is?

Mr. Marc Mayrand: Yes, both with respect to the voting process, itself, the management of the voting process on poll sites, as well as voter ID.

Interestingly, and I mentioned it in February, B.C. just had a provincial election and one of the things that B.C. had was similar rules, in terms of identification, to what we have at the federal level, but there they accepted the voter information card as one piece of ID that established at least the address and name of the elector. It is something that, in my view, should be considered at the federal level.

The other interesting thing is that the rules on vouching at the provincial level, in B.C. at least, are somewhat more flexible. There’s still some restriction. I think that meets the concerns of the committee and Parliament when they set out Bill C-31, but a little bit more flexible, so that a family member can vouch for all the members of the same family, which is not the case at the federal level.

So some of these issues and findings will feed into the recommendation that I will be bringing forward over the next year.

Ms. Libby Davies: So when will that report come before the committee?

Mr. Marc Mayrand: We’ll first see an evaluation report, so what have electors told us about the election: who’s been affected and how have they been affected? The same thing for candidates and parties, and the staff also. That will be followed by a third report in the fall, late-fall, providing recommendations for legislative changes.