Marc Mayrand speaks up

The anecdotal, philosophical matter of the Fair Elections Act

As evidence against expanding the use of the voter information card, Conservative MP Scott Reid tabled the case of Scott Reid.

It is the argument of the chief electoral officer, the mild-mannered but slyly confident Marc Mayrand, that the voter information card—the piece of paper that is distributed to those on the list of electors each time an election is called—might be used as an authorized document for the purposes of establishing an elector’s residence. Though it basically exists for the purposes of informing a citizen where to vote, the voter information card was accepted in 2011 as one of the two pieces of identification a voter might present at 745 polling stations on Aboriginal reserves and 4,935 in seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities (plans to set-up polling stations to accept cards in student residences were scrapped given the late spring election). In that some people might have a more difficult time substantiating their place of residence, the voter information card might be a way to facilitate the casting of one’s ballot. And Mr. Mayrand had said that Elections Canada would expand the card’s utility to all electors for 2015.

The Fair Elections Act would prohibit such a thing.

And herein, within a larger bill and a number of points of potential concern, is one part of what the government’s bill might mean for the simple matter of casting one’s ballot.

After a motion of time allocation had delayed proceedings somewhat this morning and after the chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, had delivered a 12-page opening statement in which he variously attempted to identify loopholes and poke new holes in the government’s legislation, Mr. Reid opened the questioning with a reference to the case of himself.

In 2006, it seems, Mr. Reid had received three voter information cards—one in the name of Scott Reid, one in the name of Jeffrey Reid and one in the name of Scott Jeffrey Reid (his full name). He conceded that it would be unwise for him, the sitting MP, to attempt to vote thrice, but here he said was a problem. When he moved, he then added, he and his wife received new voter information cards. But because they had filled out their addresses differently, they received voter information cards directing them to vote in different ridings.

“I realize that one can’t use one’s own example as proof of a systematic problem,” he conceded. “But there is a problem here, meaning that this is not, contrary to your assertion, a reliable system with a lot of integrity.”

Here, Mr. Reid, had a number—10%. In his opening statement, Mr. Mayrand had asserted that the voter information card had an accuracy rate of 90%. No slouch, Mr. Reid had figured out that that meant a 10% error rate.

“That means 2.3 million errors,” Mr. Reid explained, after confirming that there were about 23 million electors.

This, Mr. Reid submitted, “facilitates the possibility of widespread voter fraud.”

To Mr. Reid’s credit, he at least had here something he had actually seen.

Mr. Mayrand attempted to counter. The voter information card, he said, was arguably the most reliable piece of government-issued documentation. During an election campaign, 250,000 people could be expected to move. Many might not move quickly enough to update their driver’s licences.

When it was his turn again, Mr. Reid expanded on his “concern with an overall lack of capacity or competence at Elections Canada … to ensure that there is no voter fraud in this country or even to monitor the extent to which it exists.” Now, two more anecdotes. First, the case of James Di Fiore, who, in 2004, successfully procured three ballots and wrote about doing so. (Mr. Reid claimed Mr. Di Fiore had voted each time, but according to Mr. Di Fiore he only voted once.) Second, the case of an exchange student who had voted and written about it. Both men were charged and now Mr. Reid ventured that “as far as I can tell, unless you write an article announcing that you voted fraudulently, Elections Canada doesn’t prosecute. (You might also film your mischief.)

Now, Mr. Reid turned to the Neufeld report and the matter of irregularities—some 165,000 in the last election, a third of which were related to vouching. These, Mr. Reid said, were of the sort that an election might be overturned as a result.

On this second matter of facilitating the casting of ballots—vouching allows for roommates and neighbours to attest to the residency of a voter—the chief electoral officer had his own anecdotes. In the case of the disputed election of Etobicoke-Centre, a nurse at a long-term care facility had been found to have vouched for some of its patients. This amounted to an “irregularity”—something that is not permitted under the legislation. “But would anyone dispute that the people who live there, who had been visited by officials, who had been issued voter information cards … that the nurse is a proper person to attest who lives in the residence?” he had asked. “This is the kind of errors that we’re talking about when we look at the Neufeld report and the various decisions in Etobicoke. That’s why the court maintained those votes and maintained the election.”

On Mr. Reid’s second turn, Mr. Mayrand raised the matter of a mother who vouched for her son, who was voting for the first time. The polling officer, after validating the identification of the mother, might write “mother” instead of her full name. “But again is there any reason to doubt that the mother was not properly identified? Nope. Is there any reason to believe that the son was not eligible to vote? No. … These are the vast majority of situations that we’re talking and Mr. Neufeld is talking about.”

Mr. Mayrand’s case is perhaps aided here by the fact that said Mr. Neufeld of said Neufeld report says vouching should be maintained as an option. (And has recommended wider use of the voter information card.)

But the matter here is not simply anecdotal, legal or logistical. It is also philosophical.

“Clearly, wherever vouching takes place, perhaps the majority is above board, but the potential for fraud is there,” Conservative parliamentary secretary Tom Lukiwski mused at one point. “You must admit, sir, with me, that the only true way to get rid of the potential for fraud under those cases is for proper identification to be provided at the polling station by the individual.”

“And I’m not questioning the need for identification,” Mr. Mayrand explained.

“Well, those people who are being vouched for don’t have to present identification,” Mr. Lukiwski quibbled.

“Well, many of them would have ID, they would not have address. That’s a problem in the system,” Mr. Mayrand came back.

“Well, when I say identification I mean eligibility—name, address,” Mr. Lukiwski clarified.

“They’re citizens, they’re 18 years old. That’s what they need to show to be able to vote and that they reside in the riding,” Mr. Mayrand explained.

“And the only way to absolutely guarantee that is proper identification being presented at the polling station, correct?” Mr. Lukiwski finally asked.

“I think there are other ways,” Mr. Mayrand responded, “and we have to be careful because in the next election, if those rules go through, you will see in your riding how many people will be sent away. And that will be an issue I believe.”

We will have to wait to consider those anecdotes.

In the meantime, there is this basic clash of ideas. On the one hand, we might limit the possibility of fraud by eliminating vouching and barring the use of the voter information card, at the risk (however large or small) of impeding some number of eligible voters. On the other hand, we might aim to ensure that every eligible voter has relatively easy access to the franchise, at the risk (however large or small) of possible malfeasance.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr. Mayrand would say that “there’s no evidence of systemic abuse or organized abuse of the voting process.” But moments earlier, Mr. Lukiwski had attempted to rebut this.

“I just have to say, sir, that I believe that there are wide—I wouldn’t say widespread, that’s an exaggeration, but many more cases of fraud that we do not know about and many come down to the fact that there’s vouching or poor rules set up or at least administered by Elections Canada,” Mr. Lukiwski offered when his turn had come around again. “The clearest, cleanest and most effective way to ensure that voter fraud does not occur is to make sure that people coming to a polling station have proper identification, not a VIC, but name and address in proper forms. That’s the only way to ensure that voter fraud does not occur, sir, and that’s clearly what we’re suggesting with this legislation.”

Mr. Mayrand referred back to an example he had cited in his opening statement: seniors living in long-term care facilities who did not have driver’s licences, hydro bills or health cards in their personal possession and who could not procure letters of attestation from facility administrators. (The minister on this file, Pierre Poilievre, would later tell the House that the list of options included “old age security cards, hospital and medical clinic cards, hospital bracelets worn by residents of long-term care facilities, Veterans Affairs Canada health cards.” A debate might now have to be had over what specifically would substantiate one’s address.)

“Again, for some electors,” Mr. Mayrand concluded, “that means they won’t be able to vote.”

That would seem to be the anecdote that needs to be sorted out.

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