How Canada’s next federal election could be different
The head of Elections Canada has taken a long, hard look at the last federal election, and he sees plenty of room for improvement.
Marc Mayrand issued a series of recommendations this week aimed at improving how Canadians vote. Some are minor fixes, others are more significant. But if they are all adopted by the government, they could change everything from how you cast your ballot, to how parties run their campaigns to how much foreigners are allowed to weigh in on the race.
Here’s a run-down of the possible changes on the horizon.
A whole new system
The biggest change, which isn’t even part of Mayrand’s report, is the possible overhaul of the voting system itself. The Liberal government has promised that 2015 was the last election under first-past-the-post.
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A special Parliamentary committee is currently looking at how we could change to proportional representation, ranked ballots, or some other method of counting votes. Their report is due in December.
Voting on the weekend
Mayrand has suggested that holding election day on a Monday, which has been the tradition for many years, isn’t the best strategy. You end up with rushes after work, for one thing, which can result in long lines.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer, advanced polling over holiday weekends during the last two election campaigns has proven that Canadians are ready and willing to go vote on a Saturday or Sunday. Moving election day to a weekend is unlikely to result in a drop in participation, he said Wednesday, and could even bump the turnout numbers up.
The overall turnout rate last October was the highest in two decades, at 68.3 per cent.
No more marathon campaigns
Last fall’s 78-day campaign was exhausting for just about everyone involved. Mayrand said long races can also favour the parties that have the most money saved up in their war chests. Canada’s fixed election dates give us all a sense of when we’ll be voting, he added, which is a good thing.
That same predictability should extend to the campaign period, Mayrand is recommending. His report suggests the government pass a new rule to cap the length of any federal election campaign at between 45 and 50 days. There is already a minimum-length set to give Canadians enough time to weigh their options: 36 days.
At the moment, when you show up to cast your ballot on election day, you have to do it at a specific table – even if the line-up for that table is out the door while other tables in the polling place have no lines at all.
“This causes understandable frustration for electors and stress for election workers,” Mayrand’s report notes.
The solution? Electronic lists. Having electronic lists rather than the table-specific paper ones we currently use, Mayrand said, would mean poll workers at any table would be able to look up and cross off the name of any elector in that polling division.
As long as you show up to the right church basement or school gym, you could be served at any table.
Elections Canada should be allowed to gather and retain information on 16- and 17-year-olds, the Chief Electoral Officer says. It could make the difference between new electors voting or not when they reach the age of majority. The lowest turnout numbers for federal elections are consistently in the 18-24 age group.
“Elections Canada would be able to contact these individuals at an early stage with a view to adding them to the (voters’ list) when they turn 18,” the report explains.
“The agency could also conduct registration drives in schools to pre-register students in anticipation of their turning 18.”
No gender, no problem
Mayrand’s report points out that while Elections Canada may need to collect information about whether a voter is male or female for statistical purposes, there’s absolutely no need for a sex to be assigned to each voter at the polling station or on elector lists.
There’s a government-wide review underway to better accommodate Canadians who may not identify as male or female, Mayrand notes, so for now, he’s recommending that, “all requirements to indicate an elector’s ‘sex’ on lists of electors or other related documents should be deleted.”
Foreign opinions welcome
One of the new rules included in the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act was a provision that makes it illegal for people outside Canada to encourage voters “to vote or refrain from voting, or (to) vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.”
Elections Canada actually does receive complaints about media statements by non-Canadians, including comments made in interviews, blog posts or even tweets. Last fall, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler refused to endorse anyone because he’s American and was afraid he’d run afoul of the law.
John Oliver, meanwhile, openly flouted the law and even invited a Canadian onto his show to drive the point home.
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“The overly broad wording of this provision diminishes public trust in how well the rules can be enforced,” Mayrand’s report notes.
He’s recommending that the provision be repealed.
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