May 022013
By Stephen Maher, Postmedia NewsApril 30, 2013


OTTAWA — More than 165,000 people seem to have voted improperly in the last election, a new Elections Canada report has found, and the system for voting needs to be overhauled, although there isn’t enough time to do that before the next election.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand commissioned the report after irregularities in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre led to a court challenge that went to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Former Elections Canada executive Harry Neufeld audited 1,000 polls from the last election as well as three recent byelections, and discovered systematic errors in the processing of the 15 per cent of voters who show up on election day without having been registered.

“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.”

The auditors estimate that there were irregularities associated with 1.3 per cent of all votes cast in the 2011 election, many involving paperwork errors with the vouching process for voters who need to be sworn in.

Those kinds of errors led the Ontario Superior Court to overturn the election result in Etobicoke Centre, where Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj was defeated by Conservative Ted Opitz by 79 votes on election day in 2011. The Supreme Court overturned that case on appeal since there was no evidence of fraud.

Mistakes are happening in ridings across Canada, Neufeld concludes, because the hastily trained army of 200,000 single-day election workers fail to understand the complicated paperwork involved. Many also don’t want to tell voters, especially older voters, that they have to go to a different polling station when they turn up at the wrong place.

Neufeld recommends that Elections Canada improve its training and supervision of election workers before voters are expected to go to the polls in 2015, but introduce a new model for the next election, scheduled for 2019.

The agency wants to do away with the traditional “polling division” model and instead introduce a model based on New Brunswick provincial and municipal elections, where voters can go to any polling station, where their name is checked off a computer database.

Elections Canada would like to set up a similar system, with “real time access to a national computerized voters list, utilizing Internet data communications. This capability would allow for ‘live’ voter registrations and updates, and automated list ‘strike-off’ processing in all locations.”

Neufeld suggests that system will likely only serve as a short-term step, since the agency is likely to eventually end up running Internet elections.

“Current internet voting systems carry with them serious, valid concerns about system security, user authentication, adequate procedural transparency, and preserving the secrecy of the vote,” he writes. “However, evolving technology and societal expectations seem very likely to modify this equation in coming years.”


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