Potential last minute changes to Fall electoral process

August 28, 2017

At their September 12th meeting, Council will be considering a bylaw that would overturn their earlier direction to Administration to enhance the electoral system and that would perpetuate Rocky View’s deficient electoral system.

 

If adopted, those changes to the election process will be rushed in just six days before the 2017 election campaign begins.

 

In early 2016, Council considered the option of introducing a voters’ list for Rocky View elections.  Councillors Breakey, Arshinoff and Bahcheli supported the voters' list initiative. Yet, the majority on Council – Solberg, Ashdown, Habberfield, Lowther, and Kendall – rejected this option. The majority struggled to make excuses for why Rocky View didn’t need a voter’s list – even though this is an elementary protection for the democratic process that exists at all levels of government elsewhere in Canada and in the vast majority of other first world nations.  Even many third world countries employ measures to minimize voting irregularities. 

 

With overwhelming anecdotal evidence of past voting fraud, examples of which were raised repeatedly by Councillors Arshinoff and Bahcheli, the majority on Council decided that since no voting fraud had ever been proven, there was no need for a voters’ list.  Instead, they directed Administration to implement Option 2 - an "enhanced status quo”.   

 

One of the “reasons” staff gave for recommending enhancements to Rocky View’s existing electoral system rather than a voters’ list was the “reputational risk” associated with introducing a voters’ list.  However, what staff failed to acknowledge was the reputational risk that could result if the results from the upcoming election are successfully challenged. 

 

We expected Council to carry through on their earlier commitment to introduce improvements to the electoral system that would make multiple voting and voting by non-residents more difficult.  These improvements included: limiting the number of voting stations at both the advance poll and general election days; increasing training for individuals involved in the election process; and providing improved mapping information to assist residents in determining where they should vote. (See the Appendix at the end of this email for details.)

Those expectations, unfortunately, are likely to be dashed. Council will now consider, and likely approve, a bylaw that will permit five advance polls across the County. The bylaw will also establish multiple polling stations in most divisions on election day.  Without a voters’ list, there are no controls to stop unscrupulous individuals from voting at more than one of these polls.

 

Given the distances within many of Rocky View’s electoral divisions, multiple polling stations are logical in terms of voter convenience – but only if people are required to vote only at the polling station closest to their residence – the approach used for elections at all other levels of government.  

 

There is an inherent contradiction between claiming multiple polling stations are needed to simplify accessibility for voters while at the same time providing a system that enables people to drive across their division to vote at a further away polling station.  By insisting on undesignated multiple polling stations Rocky View will remain one of the few municipalities, if not the only municipality in Canada, that facilitates an antiquated “vote early – vote often” approach to local politics.

 

Having more eyes on the electoral process will help.  The Fire Fighters are volunteering their time to ensure that there are well-trained scrutineers available for every polling station – advance polls and election day polls.  This will improve the ability to challenge voters with questionable identification.  It will also allow close election results to be contested.

 

How can you help?   

 

For starters, Councillors need to hear that you are concerned about the potential to overturn their earlier direction on this issue and facilitate the continuation of weak controls over our electoral process in defiance of the advice they received from County staff.  

 

Consider delivering the following message to Councillors – if they ignore staff’s recommendation to have one advance polling station and one polling station per division on election day, at the very minimum they should: 

  • Have one advance poll per division and require people to only vote in the advance poll in their own division. Moving from the proposed five polling stations to nine will cost a meager $7,500.

  • If there is going to be more than one polling station per division on election day, then the electoral divisions must be clearly subdivided along easily understood landmarks with people assigned to vote based on where they live relative to these dividing lines (e.g. north of Township Road XXX; east of Range Road XX)

 

While we remain firmly seated in our belief that Council should adopt Administration's original recommendations, minor changes such as the above mentioned ideas to what will be proposed in the September 12th bylaw would somewhat assist in achieving the claimed objective of facilitating voting accessibility without leaving the door wide open for multiple voting by unscrupulous individuals, which is a criminal offence.  

 

As well, if the County is really interested in appearing fair, it could also implement the resident mapping assistance that was part of Administration’s “enhanced voting system” recommendations.  This would allow voters to determine where they lived relative to the polling stations and to identify which polling station they should be voting at.

 

Of course, stay tuned for the outcome of Council’s decision on September 12th.  Councillors who continue to knowingly support a deficient electoral process should expect questions about their own integrity.

 

Finally, and most importantly, you must get out and vote on October 16th and encourage your friends and neighbours in Rocky View to do the same.  Voter turnout in the 2013 election was less than 25%.  It is much easier for fraudulent voting to influence the outcomes when so few people cast ballots.  We need to submerge the fraudsters under a flood of legitimate and informed resident votes.

Councillor contacts - lbreakey@rockyview.ca, jarshinoff@rockyview.ca, mbahcheli@rockyview.ca, rashdown@rockyview.ca, esolberg@rockyview.ca, gboehlke@rockyview.ca, lhabberfield@rockyview.ca, elowther@rockyview.ca, bkendall@rockyview.ca

 

 

APPENDIX  – Administration’s recommendations to improve existing voting practices as presented to Council on Feb 23, 2016.

 

Discussion

 

Option 2: Enhanced Status Quo

 

The following current election processes recommended for review aim to improve public perception of County electoral process and deter potential fraudulent voting.

 

Short Term Process Review for Implementation in 2017

 

Currently, the County uses a standard elector identification criteria set out in LAEA s.53(1)(b)(i)(A)(B). However, under LAEA s. 53(3), an elected authority may by a bylaw draft stronger identification criteria to be produced by a person for vote verification. This can include an increased number and/or types of identification to verify a person’s name, current address and age.

 

Increased Scrutineer Awareness

 

Scrutineers are appointed to represent a candidate at a voting station. They are an important part of the democratic process and ensure that all candidates receive fair and equal treatment. The County can increase further support to scrutineers during an election process by providing workshops on the electoral process they will be observing. This includes ensuring candidates receive fair and equal treatment, being able to object to an elector receiving a ballot and observing the ballot count. Notifying the public the County is enhancing scrutineer awareness may act as a deterrent of those considering fraudulent behavior.

 

Voting Station Review

 

A concern of having multiple voting stations per division is that someone may be able to vote more than once. Conducting a voting station review may indicate it is beneficial to have only one voting station per division, consolidating resources.

 

 

Advance Vote Review

 

A concern of having an advance vote is that someone may be able to vote more than once, especially for the divisions of which the advance vote is being held. A review of the advance vote will look at conducting an advance vote in every division.

 

Residence Mapping Assistance

 

The County covers large land mass, sharing boundaries with 15 different jurisdictions and is divided into nine divisions. Experience from the 2013 County Census indicated that many residents do not know what their municipal (emergency) address is as a mailing or legal address is used more frequently. The County can assist potential electors at voting stations by providing an electronic mapping search service of where they live to ensure they are voting in the correct division.

 

Safe & Sound

 

The County’s new Safe & Sound system allows for segmenting messages by geographic location. This will permit the County to send accurate polling station information directly to residents based on their specific location in the County, and help eliminate confusion as to in which Division a voter resides.

 

Long Term Process Review

 

Provincial Advocacy

 

Advocacy efforts through the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) to the Province for changes to the LAEA regarding elector eligibility by an improved and/or mandatory use of a list of electors can be an effective method that benefits all municipalities. Currently, there is minimal guidance in the LAEA compared to the provincial Election Act on creating and maintaining a list of electors. At this time, legislative guidance regarding list of electors has not yet been identified as an advocacy priority for the AAMDC or the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

 

County Census Policy Development

 

The County has conducted a census in 2000, 2006 and 2013. For each census, there has not been policy to guide frequency of collection, type of data collected and enumeration practices. Developing census policy will be beneficial in providing the consistency that is required to establish a list of electors. An example of a census program with established practices is at the City of Calgary.

 

The City of Calgary has been conducting an annual census since 1958 with established enumeration processes. During election year, a list of electors; created for operational purposes and not used to determine elector eligibility, is also created in conjunction with their census using the same enumeration processes.

 

Option 2 - Will implementation of the enhanced status quo options eliminate fraudulent voting?

 

No. However, the recommendations will be helpful to deter potential fraudulent voting. The recommendations put forward allow for additional checks and balances to be put in place that enable stronger processes in determining elector eligibility. Reviewing physical voting locations may also streamline the process for voting and eliminate additional avenues of multiple voting.

 

Option 2 - Will the implementation of the enhanced status quo options increase public confidence of the electoral process?

 

Yes. By reviewing current electoral processes, the County is being proactive in finding improvements to provide a better voter and candidate experience. The two recommendations of increased scrutineer engagement and assisting voters with addressing are opportunities for the County to provide residents a personable and helpful experience during the election. The other recommendations relate to developing stronger policy and/or a more efficient allocation of resources, which in turn should increase public confidence of the electoral system itself.

 

The public can already be confident that the County has successfully administered all elections to date without violating the LAEA and without any legal challenges. This includes no requests for a judicial recount (LAEA s.103), no order to inspect ballots (LAEA s.102), no controverted elections (LAEA Part 5), no challenges to the validity of an election (LAEA s. 138) and no violation of general offenses (LAEA Part 6).

 

In the long term, tools to increase public confidence of the electoral process such as using a list of electors for elector eligibility can be achieved through advocacy at the provincial level. Currently, there is a lack of legislative clarity and support required for a municipality to implement a list of electors well.

 

At this point in time, the County is not positioned to accurately create a list of electors with door to door enumeration; however, as a long term objective it is a worthwhile initiative to increase public confidence of the electoral process

 

Option 2: Enhanced Status Quo

 

The following recommendations will have no budget implications as they are policy initiatives:

-Enhanced Identification Bylaw

-Increased Scrutineer Awareness

-Voting Station Review

-Provincial Advocacy

-County Census Policy Development

 

The following recommendations will have budget implications:

 

Advance Vote Review In 2013 there were five advance votes held in Divisions 2,4,7,8 and at the County office. If the advance vote was to increase to cover an additional five Divisions, this will require a budget adjustment of approximately: $7,572.90.

 

Residence Mapping Assistance

 

A residence mapping assistance system will require electronic hardware and internet access at each voting station. Implementation of the system will require a budget adjustment of approximately: $30,935.

 

Total Estimated Cost of Enhanced Status Quo Options: $38,507.

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