Is Democracy Now On The Defensive?

Is Democracy Now On The Defensive? As governments around the globe enter into their respective election seasons, a frightening question must be asked regarding how our elections will proceed here in Canada.

We all know that our federal, provincial, and municipal governments have traditionally offered in-person voting locations for voters to cast their paper ballot. However, if these elections arise mid-pandemic, will voters now have to choose between their health and their democratic right to vote?

The obvious answer is that they should not be placed in a position where they are forced to make this choice and that our governments should be finding ways to protect both the health of our voters and their right to cast their ballot.

Remarkably, there are those out there who would disagree with this approach, which is precisely what we saw in the Wisconsin primary election this past April. Even though several states chose to delay their primaries or opt for a mail-in-ballot only option, the Wisconsin Courts upheld the Republican controlled Wisconsin Legislature’s challenge to Governor Tony Ever’s executive order for an all mail-in ballot election and dismissed his subsequent attempts to postpone in-person voting. Essentially, this decision flew in the face of that same government’s stay-at-home orders and resulted in hour long line-ups of voters attempting to social distance.

In our opinion, the Governor rightly made a number of attempts to postpone or change the method of vote, which were thwarted at every turn by his Republican opponents. Despite the Trumpian talking points to the contrary, the reality is that the Governor was not trying to cancel or make any significant changes to the election that would skew the outcome. He was simply trying to protect the health and safety of his voters.

Had the primary been about the voters themselves and not about party politics (if you do not believe us, take look at the current state of California), these elections could have and likely would have been conducted differently as there are a number of alternative voting methods that could have been used, such as online voting or mail-in paper ballots. In this scenario, your resident election geeks would have recommended the latter.

Of course, it is not easy to persuade American voters to embrace the mail-in paper ballot voting method when their President is decrying the method and continually making false claims that mail-in ballot voting is too highly susceptible to election fraud. Sigh. We have also heard this argument before in our own election experiences and we will continue to counter-argue that voter fraud is a severe election offence, one that is not taken lightly.

Additionally, when we take a moment to analyze the voter fraud issue from voters’ perspectives, we realize that we continually tell voters that they need to place faith in their elected politicians and democratic processes. In light of this, should we not be placing that same amount of faith in the voters themselves? The ironic aspect about the argument that Trump is making about the correlation between election/voter fraud and mail-in-ballots is that he did not think twice about casting his own mail-in ballot for himself while he was spouting his falsehoods.

This brings to light another key political issue. As elections approach, will politicians put their own partisan interests first, advocating for a voting method that will benefit their campaigns and voter bases, or will they choose methods that place their voters’ health and voting rights at the forefront? One can only hope that our Canadian politicians will ignore the poor examples being set in the United States and make the right decisions.

That being said, are our own municipal, federal, and provincial governments here in Canada and the independent agencies that work for them even currently equipped to make the best decisions in the interests of Canadian voters? We think not. Let us evaluate the ability of Elections Canada. The Canada Elections Act, 2000 allows them to make certain decisions about how the federal election will be administered. For example, they could currently decide to host training sessions for Election Officials online as opposed to in-person, which would benefit Canadians amidst a pandemic.

However, Elections Canada does not have unlimited discretion or powers that rise above the limitations prescribed in the Canada Elections Act. They cannot proceed with certain mundane changes such as eliminating the use of pencils used for marking paper ballots or the assignment of voters to a specific voting location (any of you who have voted and stood in a federal election line-up will understand this frustration). To make matters worse, this legislation does not allow Elections Canada to offer mail-in paper ballots as a sole voting method or make any other changes to the method of vote. This leaves the power in the hands of partisan governments to decide, how, when, and where voters will cast their ballots for them. Are we the only ones that think this sounds like a bit of a conflict of interest? Yikes!

So what can Canadian governments do? They can be proactive. Our federal, provincial, and municipal governments are long overdue to modernize the legislation surrounding our democratic processes, especially election legislation. As Election Organizers, we saw how aspects of the legislation known as the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 impacted our ability to organize the City of Greater Sudbury 2018 Municipal and School Board Election in an even more modern way.

 In sum, we desperately want to see Canadian elections that reflect the modernity of today’s democratic society (and we are sure you do too). We kindly plead to our governments to amend these archaic pieces of legislation so that we can run elections that best suit the world we live in and in a manner that is free from political interference. Those in power need to be enabled to make the best election decisions for the health and safety of all Canadians, while protecting their right to vote. Today, we believe that decision is mail-in paper ballots or another “distance voting method” such as online voting.

It’s time to be blunt and to take action. Our democracy does not need to go on the defensive.

Danielle has been involved in politics and election campaigns since she walked into her first campaign office in 2008. Since that time she has worked for Members of Parliament, a Mayor and has been involved in elections, both on the campaign side and as a member of the team responsible for organizing and running the Municipal and School Board Elections.