Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Who’s Intimidating Whom?

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections (Sunday January 22, 2006 at 10:03 pm)

Apparently, Elections Canada expects to have some problems in the coming election. They’ve rushed out a release reminding Canadians that if they vote, they have to vote for someone on the ballot, or else:

Spoiling your ballot is a crime

Well, it could be true.

Section 167 of the Elections Act (combined with section 489(3)(e)) makes it an offence to “alter, deface or destroy” a ballot, for which a judge can render a sentence of up to $500 in fines or 3 months in prison. Of course, that means the judge can also render a sentence of $0 in fines and no time in prison. It’s all up to what the judge thinks is proper.

Obviously, someone who eats their ballot in protest has destroyed it, and anyone who strikes out a name and writes in a new one has altered it. But does that mean that someone who fails to mark any circle has defaced it? Someone who marks every circle? Doubtful. There’s no Canadian case saying so, and it’s hard to imagine that a judge would believe that not marking off any boxes somehow means defacing a ballot. . .

So what’s Elections Canada’s problem?

They’ve sugested that spoiling your ballot is a waste of time:

Spoiling a ballot in privacy is not much of a protest, suggests Elections Canada spokesman Dana Doiron.

“Nobody gets real satisfaction out of it because nobody knows about it,” Doiron said.

Isn’t that in the nature of a secret ballot? No one else knows how you’ve voted? Isn’t satisfaction something you enjoy yourself? Does everyone in the world need to know that you’ve done a good thing for you to be satisfied by it? Does Elections Canada employ anyone a little less shallow?

If it’s an act of protest that’s never publicized, what’s the difference between spoiling a ballot and voting for a candidate who isn’t elected?

Simple:

  • A sudden surge in the reported number of spoiled ballots suggests that voters were dissatisfied with the selection
  • A sudden surge in hold-your-nose and vote for one of several unacceptable choices suggests that voters support those choices

Let’s be clear. Holding your nose and voting doesn’t express anything but support for the party you’ve settled for. If you want parties to stop messing around and try to propose genuine governance (rather than cheap pandering), voting for them isn’t the way to go. Staying home is equally ineffective. If your response is to not vote, it suggests that voting isn’t important enough for you for them to care what you do — after all, if you can’t be bothered, why should they be?

Don’t let Elections Canada intimidate you: spoiled ballots are counted, they’re just not reported by news agencies. They are, however, tracked as “rejected” or “spoiled” and the fact that x number of ballots were so treated is part of the public record of the election. And believe it or not, parties are very interested in the number of voters.

Should there be another option? An option to reject the ballot? Certainly. There isn’t now, and that’s not just an oversight — it’s a failure on the part of Elections Canada and our legislators (who are doubtless happier with hold-your-nose than with the option to denounce them all). Until that’s resolved (along with countless other bits of associated foolishness — this announcement being only one of many), feel free to let them know that they need to provide choices to let Canadians effectively exercise their slender right to control their government.

For now, remember this: a little civil disobedience can be a good thing.

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