Globe and Mail
by Murray Mollard
Come next election, the Government of Canada wants you to show identification when you vote. Bill C-31 – under discussion again yesterday by the standing committee on procedure and House affairs – will require voters to provide either one piece of government photo ID or two pieces of approved ID with their name and address. The Government says these amendments to the Canada Elections Act are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
Reasonable, you say. Think again.
If you don’t drive, you probably don’t have photo ID that qualifies. Passports won’t qualify because you write in your own address. So you’ll need two pieces of approved ID (from a list to be approved by the Chief Electoral Officer).
But wait. Your two pieces of approved ID must show your current address. Canadians move around a lot, and groups such as students and tenants will face widespread disenfranchisement if the amendments become law.
If you don’t bring enough ID to the poll, you’ll have to go home to get it. That’s tough enough for many, but for those with limited mobility – seniors, or people with disabilities – it will be the end of the story.
Marginalized individuals – those most vulnerable due to homelessness, mental health and addiction challenges – don’t have a driver’s license. Preoccupied with finding their next meal, getting and keeping any ID is low on the list- if it is on the list at all. Yet, they often leap at the opportunity to vote, given the chance to voice their political preferences.
In the past two federal elections, through an effort of volunteer lawyers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, several hundred individuals have been able to swear a statutory declaration establishing their eligibility to vote. The statutory declaration functions as a primary piece of ID to the satisfaction of election officials. The demand for this type of program is growing, not shrinking. Yet Bill C-31 will eliminate this solution, thereby effectively disenfranchising some of the most voiceless in society.
Supporters of Bill C-31 might say that the law provides for people without ID to swear an oath if someone can vouch for them. This is no real solution, since the voucher must reside in the same small polling division and can only vouch for one other person in an election. This solution has rarely, if ever, been used.
Even more frustrating is the fact that this fix to prevent voter fraud is not actually needed. There is no confirmed evidence of sporadic, let alone wide-scale, fraud.
In his testimony last week before the standing committee on procedure and House affairs which is reviewing Bill C-31, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley stated: “I have no evidence that would lead me to believe that there has been any fraud in this country, based on the testimony I heard.”
At a time when voter turnout in federal elections – hovering around 60 per cent – is a real concern, it makes no sense to disqualify thousands of eligible voters to save us from speculative, at best, worries about voters’ intent on election fraud. The Government of Canada and MPs who support Bill C-31 simply have not done their homework.
This lack of forethought will make the new voter ID requirements very vulnerable to a Charter challenge.
One is to scrap the voter ID requirement altogether. Currently, if you are registered to vote, you do not need ID to vote. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The other potential solution is to amend Bill C-31 to recognize that a statutory declaration would be the equivalent of a government photo ID. To make this effective, there would need to be greater availability for swearing a declaration at many more election polls.
Alternatively, election officials could accept an oath from a person, either with or without someone to vouch for them. If vouching is required, there should be no limit on the number of people one could vouch for. Employees of social service agencies and housing shelters would be able to vouch for as many of their clients as turn up at the polls.
Requiring voter ID without effective safeguards for those without ID is a regressive, undemocratic reform. It will effectively eliminate the franchise for the most vulnerable and reverse a historical trend towards expanding the right to vote to all people.