Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canada catches a US Voting Disease

This recent federal election had the lowest voter participation 59.1% ever recorded in any Canadian federal election. Here is the record:
Year Voter Turnout(%) Year Voter Turnout(%)
1867 73.1 1949 73.8
1872 70.3 1953 67.5
1874 69.6 1957 74.1
1878 69.1 1958 79.4
1882 70.3 1962 79.0
1887 70.1 1963 79.2
1891 64.4 1965 74.8
1896 62.9 1968 75.7
1900 77.4 1972 76.7
1904 71.6 1974 71.0
1908 70.3 1979 75.7
1911 70.2 1980 69.3
1917 75.0 1984 75.3
1921 67.7 1988 75.3
1925 66.4 1993 69.6 (70.9 adj.)
1926 67.7 1997 67.0
1930 73.5 2000 61.2 (64.1 adj.)
1935 74.2 2004 60.9
1940 69.9 2006 64.7
1945 75.3

Why is that? I have two explanations for the low turnout.

Explanation #1: Harper is following the play book from the US where the rich don't want the poor to vote by blocking efforts to lower the hurdles to voting. Instead they try to make it harder to qualify to vote by making voter registration more difficult and time consuming.

Here is a comment by Mark Thoma about the US election that is relevant to what just happened in Canada:

Costs and Benefits of Increased Participation in the Democratic Process

from Economist's View by Mark Thoma

I didn't watch the debate, but in reading about it, I have a question.

Why is it “destroying the fabric of democracy” to register low and moderate income people, many of whom are either young or minorities, to vote?

That statement can only be made if you see only costs (a tiny potential for voting fraud) and not the offsetting benefits (increased participation of these voters in the democratic process). Doesn't McCain believe there are large benefits to increased participation of low-income voters, voters of color, and young voters in the democratic process, country first and all that? Apparently not. He does not seem to believe that the benefits are large enough to overcome the trivial costs. Here's the quote from the debate:
ACORN ... is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."
But McCain knows this, at least he should:
[E]lection experts say the chances for significant voter fraud in November are slim. Most of the false or duplicate names - such as "Mickey Mouse" and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys - are already being struck from voter rolls by election boards. Election experts say while there have been a few isolated cases of voter fraud in recent history, it's virtually impossible to pull off large-scale voter fraud without being discovered. ...

The Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002 after the 2000 election debacle in Florida, required that new voter registrations include a "unique identifier" - a driver's license number or the last four digits of the Social Security number - to verify the voter's identity.

"It's not like you can just make this stuff up and, voila, you are a registered voter," Weir said. "You've got to be pretty clever to steal an 'identifier' to steal a vote. You have to have one of those identifiers. If you don't that's going to stop the process."


  • ACORN has helped 1.3 million citizens from all parties and all walks of life apply for voter registration.
  • In most states, ACORN is required by law to turn in every voter registration card - even in cases where the cards are not valid.
  • It is ACORN that has reported almost all of the issues regarding voter registration cards.
  • Invalid voter registration cards do NOT constitute voter fraud. Even RNC General Counsel Sean Cairncross has recently acknowledged he is not aware of a single improper vote cast as a result of bad cards submitted in the course of an organized voter registration effort.
The only way you can conclude that ACORN is undermining democracy is if you see almost no benefit from increased participation of these voters in the democratic process. I understand why, as a political matter McCain wouldn't be anxious to increase the numbers of particular types of voters, but on more general principle I just don't see how you can conclude that signing up 1,315,057 new voters is contrary to democracy.

Explanation #2: Harper is following the play book from the US where the rich don't want the poor to vote by playing the phony "security" card to disenfranchise voters.

This year Elections Canada imposed a new rule requiring "voter identification" before you could vote. Why? Has there been some massive security breach that has allowed fraudulent voters to flood the polls? I don't think so and I sure haven't heard great outcry in the past that would justify this new hurdle to voting.

Presumably the new "voter identification" requirement has been put in place as part of a "security" scheme to prevent fraudulent voting. If so, this "security" scheme is a fraud:
If you notice, one of the "identification" techniques is to have somebody with a driver's license "vouch" for any number of other people. This is a loophole big enough to drive as many fraudulent voters as you want through it.
All this identification "system" does is make people like me throw up their hands and refuse to play the game. The cheaters will continue to cheat because the system is stupid. It is "mock" security, just like Bush has mock "homeland security" in the US. Harper (via Elections Canada) is not concerned with fraudulent voting. He is simply raising the bar to make it harder to the poor to vote. (What, you mean everybody doesn't have a driver's license?)

This is just another small wedge in Harper's goal of implementing a full "national identify card" scheme for the country. Hey Harper, why not go whole hog and just line us up like the NAZIs did and tattoo our "identify number" on our forearm as you march us into the barracks you have reserved for those of us not affluent enough to buy a piece of the "Canadian dream" that you so jealously guard?


Anonymous said...

Such a low participation is for sure bad, but - where is the highest participation of voters? In communist countries...Not to vote is also a decision. And I rally don't think administrative obstacles were the key - yes they were more complicated, but common - you really want to say there were thousands of voters who were not able to vote??
I think there was a different problem - no discussion and many other more "interesting" topics like financial crisis or US presidential election - and our voters hardly noticed there is some election here in Canada too...
Take care

RYviewpoint said...

Lorne, you're right. I was just venting my general unhappiness with Harper and his urge to follow Bush. For a more informed analysis of how the last Parliament voted in this new restriction on voting, refer to an article by Jason Youmans that examines how the new law was passed.