February 24, 2014

Vouching Problems Are “Serious”

ID laws should be, too


Canadians can use 39 forms of authorized identification to prove who they are and where they live. If they fail to bring any of those to the polls, the law allows someone else to vouch for them. Due to massive irregularities in the use of vouching, the Fair Elections Act would end the practice.

I have pointed to an Elections Canada-commissioned “Compliance Review”, as evidence of the problem. It included audits of four ridings in which, “the level of irregularities for vouching averaged 25 percent.”(P.15) http://www.elections.ca/res/cons/comp/crfr/pdf/crfr_e.pdf

Now, freelance journalist Justin Ling, has questioned both this fact and its importance.

The fact comes from page 15 of the above-mentioned compliance review, authored in 2013 by Harry Neufeld, the former Chief Electoral Officer for the province of British Columbia.

Mr. Ling correctly points out that the national rate of irregularities is actually 42%. The difference arises from the fact that the 25% number is an average of four ridings, and the 42% is a nationwide figure. At worst, I have understated the problem. Either way, both numbers are correct—and both are shockingly high.

Are they important? Mr. Ling argues that they are minor paperwork glitches having no impact on the integrity of the vote.

Yet that is not what the report’s author found. Mr. Neufeld defined “irregularities” as “serious errors”—his words—not small details. “An ‘irregularity’ is a failure by an election officer to administer safeguards demonstrating that a voter is entitled to receive a ballot.” (p.63)

Mr. Ling correctly points out here that this failure does not automatically mean that the voter was not eligible to vote. But by that logic, we would not require any identification rules whatsoever and instead put the onus on elections officials to prove a person is not eligible. Someone could walk in, assert an identity and an address, and unless the officials could prove otherwise, the person would cast a ballot.

We do not allow that, nor should we.

ID requirements exist for a reason. Failure to properly identify voters – as so often happens with vouching – allows people to vote when they are not eligible or to vote more than once.

It should not be a guessing game. Yet that is what vouching has become in nearly half of cases where it is used, if you believe facts in the Elections Canada compliance report. “Serious errors, of a type the courts consider ‘irregularities’ that can contribute to an election being overturned, were found to occur in 12 percent of all Election Day cases involving voter registration, and 42 percent of cases involving identity vouching.” (P. 6).

The latter point is particularly devastating. Judges don’t overturn election results for nothing. Yet the report says that “vouching” irregularities – which occurred 50,735 times (p.69) – are serious enough for a judge to consider doing so.

But that is not all. While vouching is theoretically intended to extend the right to vote, it may rob people of that very same right. When courts invalidate votes because of serious irregularities, there is significant chance that legitimate ballots can be invalidated along with them. In other words, a contaminated process can deprive even honest votes of being counted.

So why not simply administer vouching more competently, instead of ending it altogether? The answer is that quality assurances seem to do little to improve the situation, according to Neufeld. “During two of these elections, quality assurance programs involving Onsite Conformity Advisors (OCAs) were applied. However, vouching irregularities still averaged 21 percent during the OCA monitored elections. This indicates that overly complex procedures cannot be remedied simply by improved quality assurance.” (P.15)

It is important to let every eligible voter cast a ballot. That is why the Fair Elections Act allows another day of advanced voting and requires Elections Canada to advertise voter ID requirements.

Every citizen is entitled to the voting franchise. Let us never forget that a fraudulent vote has the same mathematical effect as denying someone their constitutional right to cast a ballot. It cancels out the ballot of an honest person.

Now, that is serious. Our voter identity laws must be too.


Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State (Democratic Reform)