Thursday, April 24, 2014

The voter fraud no one's talking about

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Have you ever heard about the voter fraud that took place in 2006 in Saskatchewan's Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding?

With all the hyperbole and "expert opinion" regarding the 
Fair Elections Act right now, the media would be all over stories of voter fraud and how the proposed legislation would crack down on it.

... Wouldn't they?

In 2006, incumbent Conservative MP Jeremy Harrison was facing Liberal candidate Gary Merasty, a former chief of one of the aboriginal bands in the riding.  All of the polls had closed and the votes were being counted.  With all but one poll being counted, Harrison had been re-elected.

But suddenly, over three and a half hours after the polls had closed, that final poll came in - it was from an aboriginal band.  Suddenly, Conservative MP Harrison had been defeated by the Liberal by a mere 68 votes.

Suspicious yet?  Just wait.

Over 100 percent of the eligible voting population voted!  That's right: on top of the 380 voters who were registered to vote, another 240 people showed up and registered on election day.  
And they were all vouched for!

Secondly, every single ballot just so happened to be in Merasty's name.

Thirdly, a prize was given away - a flat screen TV - supposedly to incentivize voting.  This raffle was done in the same building as the polling station, so band administrators could easily enter names into the draw as they voted.

Did you read that correctly?  Yes, you did!

What was Elections Canada's response to such suspicious activity - indeed, potential fraud?

The voter turnout of over 100 percent?  Well, aboriginals historically have low voter turnout.  More of them voting is great!  Also, the voter lists for the reserve were wildly out of date.

The delay of over three and a half hours?  Well, vouching for 240 people takes a bit of time!

What about every single ballot being cast in the favour of the Liberal?  There wasn't a single vote for the Conservatives or the NDP or another party?  Well, it turned out the poll's band chief called a meeting and said voters would "get a better deal" by voting Liberal rather than Conservative.  "I don't know that's against the law," said former Commissioner of Canada Elections William Corbett, the Commissioner who investigated the allegations.

Finally, how was it legal to "incentivize" voting by offering a prize raffle for voting - especially in an election with over 100 percent voter turnout and where all of the votes went to one candidate!?  The band explained to Elections Canada: “Well, you can't get anybody out to do anything around here without a raffle and a prize. It's the way we do things. If you want a meeting, you have a raffle and a prize to get them to your meeting.”

Why haven't we heard about this?  After all, the Commissioner of Canada Elections issued a press release on it; it's posted below. But it is not easily accessible through Elections Canada's website.  And this case has been repeated in parliamentary hearings, including with the former Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Why has this story been conveniently left out from the narrative on the Fair Elections Act?

This is exactly why changes to Canada's voting system are needed, including eliminating the practice of vouching and cracking down on any interference in Canada's electoral process.

I emailed Elections Canada asking for a copy of their investigation report. This is the response I received:

Commissioner of Canada Elections Finds No Wrongdoing in Federal Vote
Held in Riding of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River, Saskatchewan

OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 25, 2006 — The Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections has completed its investigation of complaints received in relation to the 39th general election held on January 23, 2006, in the electoral district of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River in Saskatchewan.

The complaints involved allegations of wrongdoing concerning the promotion of a particular party through a raffle, the distribution of political literature inside polling stations, questionably high voter turnout in certain polling divisions, and missing ballots.

Given the considerable media attention surrounding the allegations, and in the interest of the public, the Commissioner has provided an overview of his conclusions based on the investigation.

The first complaint concerned a raffle held on a reserve by community leaders to promote voting for a particular political party. According to the leaders, offering door prizes to encourage people to participate in community activities is common practice. In this case, an advertisement was posted on the Band office door stating that door prizes would be offered to everyone who came out to vote in the federal election of January 23, 2006. Winners would be selected by a draw. No other participation conditions applied.

On election day, community officials noted the names of electors who entered the polling station to vote. Each name was written on a piece of paper and placed in a draw barrel. No elector was spoken to upon entering or leaving the polling station. Everyone who arrived to vote was entered in the draw, which was held after the poll closed.

The investigation has shown that the draw was nothing other than a non-partisan initiative to encourage everyone living on the reserve to vote. The draw did not interfere with the electoral process.

The second complaint concerned the presence of political pamphlets and advertising at a number of polling stations on election day. The investigation has revealed that some campaign material was displayed at about 6 out of 177 polling stations in the riding. This is regrettable. The cases brought to the attention of Elections Canada officials were dealt with promptly through the removal of the offending material. The Commissioner found no evidence indicating that this activity was designed to influence electors. The incidents were isolated and did not undermine the electoral process.

A third complaint concerned voter turnout at three polling divisions that was higher than the number of eligible electors on the official voters list. The investigation has revealed that this was attributed to:

  • an increase in election-day registration by first-time eligible electors who were not on any official list
  • electors who turned up to vote at the poll on the reserve where they resided instead of at the neighbouring polling divisions where they were listed to vote

The evidence indicated that all electors voting at the three reserve polling divisions had identified themselves as residents of the polling division where they voted and had met all other legal requirements. Available documentation has established that none of these electors voted twice.

Lastly, there were also allegations of missing ballots or ballot box "stuffing" in certain polling divisions. A thorough analysis of election documents has shown that all ballots were accounted for.

Based on the results of the investigation, the Commissioner has concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing that affected the outcome of the vote in Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River during the federal election held on January 23, 2006.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the independent officer responsible for ensuring that the Canada Elections Act is complied with and enforced. The Chief Electoral Officer appointed the current Commissioner, William Corbett, in September 2006.