Advocates for seniors, the homeless, First Nations and students in Victoria worry that changes to voting requirements will make it harder to vote in October’s federal election, pushing an already marginalized population further to the sidelines.
Under the electoral reforms passed by the Conservatives last year, dubbed the Fair Elections Act, voter-information cards can no longer be used as a piece of identification.
In the 2011 federal election, 400,000 Canadians used these cards to identify themselves at a polling station. Another 120,000 had someone, such as a neighbour or family member, vouch for their identity — a process that has also changed.
A person can still swear an oath to attest to the residence of a voter (as long as the voter has two pieces of ID with his or her name on it), but the person must be registered in the same polling division and can attest for only one voter.
Don Evans, executive director at Our Place drop-in shelter, said that means shelter staff won’t be able to vouch for several people.
“In the past, our staff have been able to vouch for the people who use our service, people we’re connected with and who we know,” Evans said. “We’ve lost that ability.”
Evans said those who live on the street frequently lose their ID or have their bags stolen.
“The people who are going to be affected the most are the people who are not connected to the system,” he said. “Whenever you create more barriers for marginalized populations, you’re moving in the wrong direction.”
Our Place plans to host an ID clinic in September in partnership with the Coalition to End Homelessness. Evans hopes the Victoria riding candidates will visit Our Place to talk about social welfare issues, and he’s also pushing for a polling station inside the drop-in centre.
Someone who has identification that does not have his or her address on it can also show a letter of confirmation of residence, which can be obtained from a student residence, seniors’ residence, homeless shelter or a First Nations band.
Kenya Rogers, director of external relations with the University of Victoria Students’ Society, said the group will be setting up tables on campus and at community events such as the Rifflandia music festival to make sure students have all the information they need to vote.
“We definitely feel like the adjustments [in] the Fair Elections Act are overly restrictive and it hinders the democratic process of the election,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to bring people into the election to make them feel invested in the decision they’re making.”
Caitlin Mangiacasale-Ashford, a second-year student at Vancouver Island University, made sure she changed the address on her B.C. driver’s licence from her Victoria family home to her Nanaimo residence. But she said she has talked with other students who haven’t changed their address and are scrambling to find a utility bill or piece of mail that confirms their address.
“It seems ridiculous for something that’s so fundamental to being Canadian for students to have to go through so much extra effort,” she said.
“They don’t want to go through all those hurdles on top of the school work they have to do.”
Mangiacasale-Ashford also volunteers at the Victoria Brain Injury Society and has had clients come in asking how they can vote if they don’t have a driver’s licence.
Shelley Readman, an advocate for seniors and the disabled, said there has been a lot of confusion around the new voting rules.
Readman said seniors who don’t have a driver’s licence can sign up for a B.C. identification card, which costs $15, or for a B.C. Services Card as a replacement for their care card.
“It is something that seniors have to start doing now in order to be prepared for the Oct. 19 election,” she said.
Readman said an 87-year-old woman from a remote part of Vancouver Island was in tears when she learned the voter information card could not be used to verify her address.
“In her life, she’s never missed a vote,” Readman said.
The woman plans to get special transportation to a Service B.C. office so she can get a B.C. ID card.
Readman pointed out that in the 2011 federal election, Canadians ages 65 to 74 had a voter turnout of 71 per cent, well above the Canadian average of 61 per cent.
“So why would we want to compromise the voter that loyally comes out to vote?” Readman asked. “What a discredit to our judicial system and to these seniors who want to have a voice.”
Jack Traplin, the First Nations Student Association director on the Camosun College student society board, said First Nations members who live on reserves face obstacles of not having ID with their address on it.
First Nations status cards, for instance, are government-issued photo ID, but have no address.
Pierre Poilievre, minister of democratic reform, justified the changes by pointing to the threat of voter fraud, even though a report by elections expert Harry Neufeld found little evidence of voter fraud and recommended voter-information cards be used more widely. Poilievre’s office did not return calls for comment this past week.
Neufeld has called the changes “disenfranchising” and “unnecessarily onerous” and warned in an affidavit to the Ontario Superior Court that the changes could result in tens of thousands of Canadians being turned away from the polls because they can’t meet the new identification requirements. Particularly vulnerable, he said, are First Nations groups, seniors in care homes, students and the homeless.
The Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians asked the courts for an injunction on the Fair Elections Act, arguing it’s unconstitutional.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled against the injunction last month.
“There’s a very obvious concerted effort on the part of the Conservative government to suppress a certain type of voter and those are the voters who have already had a lot of difficulties accessing and navigating the democratic and electoral process,” Bilan Arte, national chairwoman for the Canadian Federation of Students, told the Times Colonist.
“We want to make it loud and clear coast to coast that students will not be left behind in this election.”
For more information on voting, go to elections.ca
What the Victoria riding candidates have to say about the voting changes
Murray Rankin, NDP
Rankin said he doesn’t think a good job has been done of informing Canadians about the new rules, so he worries people will show up on voting day with their voter-information cards and be turned away.
“That’s why I voted against the so-called Fair Elections Act. It has the effect of suppressing the vote at time when we need more people to vote,” Rankin said. “People should ask themselves why the Conservatives rammed through this bill which makes it more difficult for the marginalized in our community to exercise their democratic right.”
Rankin encourages people to make sure they’re registered well in advance. Advanced voting takes place between Oct. 9 and Oct. 12.
John Rizzuti, Conservative Party
Rizzuti was not available for an interview.
Jo-Ann Roberts, Green Party
Roberts said volunteers are busy going door to door, checking if people are on the voters’ list.
The Green Party has reached out to non-partisan voter advocacy groups Vic Votes and Vote Ready about hosting voter ID workshops.
Roberts wants to see the Victoria riding achieve the highest voter turnout in the country.
“We’re not going to allow tinkering with the Elections Act to defeat us,” Roberts said. “We have to make the effort in this campaign that people aren’t disenfranchised.”
Cheryl Thomas, Liberal Party
Thomas said her office has been getting many calls from people with questions about the new voting requirements.
“There’s lot of rumours flying around so people are concerned,” she said.
She said her staff is reminding students that they can vote in their hometown riding by mailing in a ballot.
Anyone who has made up their mind on who to vote for can go to the returning office at 722 Johnson St. and cast a special ballot right now.
“Deal with all of this ahead of time so you’re not shut out on elections day,” she said.
THREE WAYS TO PROVE YOUR IDENTITY AND ADDRESS
In the Oct. 19 election, your voter identification card cannot be used as a piece of ID. There are three ways to prove your identity and address:
1: Show one piece of ID
The piece should have your photo, name and current address on it.
• Driver’s licence
• Provincial or territorial ID card
• Any other government card that has your photo, name and current address on it
2: Show two pieces of ID
At least one piece must have your current address on it. There are dozens of items that can be used, including:
• health card
• Canadian passport
• birth certificate
• certificate of Canadian citizenship
• citizenship card
• social insurance number card
• Indian status card, band membership card, Métis card
• Canadian Forces identity card
• Veterans Affairs health card
• old age security card
• hospital or medical clinic card
• label on a prescription container
• credit or debit card
• student identity card
• public transportation card
• library card
• utility bill
• bank, credit union or credit card statement
• personal cheque
• income tax assessment
• residential lease
3:Take an oath
If your ID does not have your current address, you can take an oath. Show two pieces of ID with your name and have someone who knows you attest to your address. This person must show proof of identity and address, be registered in the same polling division and attest for only one person.
For more information on voting, go to elections.ca.
Source: Elections Canada
FAIR ELECTIONS ACT
The Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23, was virtually universally panned by electoral experts when it was first introduced. The Harper government eventually modified or removed some of the most contentious provisions — including backing down on plans to eliminate vouching, muzzle the chief electoral officer and create a loophole that would allow rich, established parties to spend millions more during election campaigns.
HOW THEY VOTE D
The Fair Elections Act passed by a vote of 146 to 123 on May 13, 2014. All but one of the 146 votes in favour came from the Conservatives — the other one came from Independent Dean Del Mastro, a former Conservative MP convicted on three counts of breaking the Elections Act.