Calgary’s municipal election in October 2021 will go ahead without a voter list.
And without a list, candidates for councillor or mayor will not be able to get a copy of it.
Tuesday afternoon, the city’s priorities and finance committee held an in-camera discussion about the Local Authorities Election Act with city solicitor Jill Floen following concerns the week before that far-right social media personality and mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston could have access to a list that would include names and addresses of every Calgarian eligible to vote.
“In order to prepare a list, direction is required from counsel by bylaw, and that direction does not exist,” Floen said when the committee meeting emerged. “So there is no authority at this time to create a list.”
Floen noted that elections can be conducted without a voter list, pointing to past elections and elections in other Alberta municipalities.
“Therefore, the returning officer is not intending to create a list to administer the election and will not be seeking that direction.
“The decision has been made, and it needs to be made now, as to how the election is going to be carried out because preparations are underway.”
Floen said this is the first time she was aware of a situation like this faced by the city.
Voter lists are created from electors’ registries, a much more detailed collection of personal data kept by Elections Calgary that is not used to administer an election.
Instead of cross-checking a voter identity from a voter list, affidavit forms declaring eligibility will be used this year, like past years.
“People will attend at their voting stations or they will attend at the advanced polls, and they will be required to validate their identity through different forms of identification, and they will be required to make a statement indicating that they are who they are holding themselves out to be that they’re entitled to vote and they’ll be required to sign a form,” Floen said.
Floen reassured the committee that Calgarians who don’t want their personal information to get into the hands of candidates will have nothing to worry about, since a voter list will not exist.
“They can be confident that no such list exists,” Calgary’s general counsel said. “So there is nothing from which someone’s name could be struck off.”
Prior to the decision, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he called up a number of councillors and campaigners to determine the usefulness of the lists for campaigns.
“The general consensus was it’s actually not that useful on a campaign because you only get it four weeks before the election and it’s not great for data building,” Nenshi said. “But some people do use it.”
Nenshi said there are some concerns that it may put some campaigns at a disadvantage by virtue of not being an incumbent.
“Generally incumbents have their own database of their supporters, but that’s something that you can’t really change.”
Answering a question from Ward 3 councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek, who has been calling for the disqualification of Johnston for safety reasons, Floen said that municipalities do not have the authority to disqualify an election candidate.
“That would be up to the province to administer and I’m not going to suggest they do or they do not have that ability,” Floen said. “But municipalities definitely do not.”