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Elections Canada on the lookout for voter suppression

Once bitten, twice shy?

Though Elections Canada has been bitten more than once by illegal and corrupt Harper government tactics, not limited to illegal voter suppression, corrupt practices and gerrymandering, it appears to be stepping up its vigilance ahead of next month’s federal election.

Scare tactics, intimidation, misinformation, and challenging voter eligibility are all potential tactics that could be used to suppress voters this election, according to an Elections Canada document obtained by the Canadian Press.

A presentation the agency gave last year, obtained through a freedom of information request, highlights voter suppression moves now more commonplace in the U.S. that could be spreading across the border. Technology makes it easier to learn about and to deploy such illegal measures.

CP reports that the presentation cites four stages of a successful voter suppression plan: identify non-supporters; gather information on them; prevent them from going to the polls through scare tactics, misinformation or systematic challenging of registrations; if electors get to the polls, prevent them from voting by contesting eligibility or identification, and through intimidation.

Corrupt, U.S.-style tactics have been adopted by the Conservatives, the trend coming to the public’s attention following the robocall scandal during the 2011 election. Now, surveys show more than 70 per cent of Canadians are concerned about the potential manipulation of future elections.

Only one low-level staffer was convicted in the robocall affair, and that for just his involvement in a Guelph riding. Canadians remain convinced the scandal involved those higher in the ranks, perhaps all the way to the PM, just as is the case with the Mike Duffy scandal and ongoing attempts to cover up the truth and complicity.

With the robocalls, a Simon Fraser University study determined that the tactic of illegal demobilization reduced voter turnout by an average of about four per cent in 27 electoral districts, enough to have an impact on some outcomes. And that was but one fraud perpetrated by the governing party.

Vigilance by Elections Canada is very much warranted. Voters, too, should be aware of what might be coming their way in the government’s desperate bid to hang on to power – illegal and immoral are no deterrents, as the record clearly shows. The Conservatives have proven repeatedly to have no interest in following the law, House ethics or their own pledge of accountability.

They probably won’t even halt the use of robocalls, which have emerged as an even stronger threat to democracy as the Tories dig into the Karl Rove school of unethical political practices.

Since the practice gained attention in the 2008 election, led by Conservative malfeasance in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, the government has refused to disavow it. Nor have other parties been immune from its lure.

Moreover, there have been plenty of irregularities where polling and voting are concerned, with Elections Canada having received more than 2,200 complaints since 2004 alone.

Elections Canada has been investigating but so far, there’s been little in the way of legal repercussions. Compelling Elections Canada to be more transparent and, more broadly, making changes to some very undemocratic facets of our electoral process will require action from our politicians, not just all the talk, talk, talk coming out of Ottawa.


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