The almost evenly divided Supreme Court decision on the Etobicoke Centre election case revealed how difficult it was for the justices to reach their decision. Four out of seven judges decided that even though information about some voters was missing, the burden of voter's verification should not be placed on the voter. This ruling could mean that the law implemented by the Conservatives requiring voters to show some ID is no longer enforceable.
The Supreme Court judges recognized the awesome weight of their decision. It took them much longer than expected to finalize their ruling. It was also an unusually divided court when it normally succeeds at reaching unanimous verdicts.
The majority of the judges were reluctant to overrule the declared results of the election. They chose to rule on the mechanics of the process and not consider the bigger picture that included serious accusations of voters' tampering.
The dissenting minority believed that the court should include the broader question of the system's credibility.
If you were expecting the court to rule on the question of voter suppression tactics, you were disappointed. One of the main reasons why former MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj chose to take this case to court was to ensure that political actors don't get away with such ploys.
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The much-debated subject of questionable campaigning tactics that are meant to discourage opponents' supporters from voting remain unaddressed.
It is understandable why the Harper government is not rushing to propose policies that would combat such ploys. After all, they are accused of being the architects of these methods.
Unfortunately, methods such as misleading robocalls, inaccurate advertising and selective targeting have been significantly eroding Canadians' confidence in our democracy and electoral process.
If these shady tactics remain unchallenged, not only will they persist, but parties will compete to game the system accelerating an ugly downward spiral. When political campaigns care very little about substantive public policies and concentrate on sinister methods to suppress voters, we all lose.
Suppressing opponents' voters is much easier than trying to convince Canadians why they should vote for you. In fact, it encourages campaign strategists to avoid serious debates and concentrate on demonizing opponents, misleading voters and undermining confidence in our institutions.
One effective way to prevent against cynical gamesmanship is to implement mandatory voting.
Removing the question of voters' turnout will turn political campaigning on its head.
Currently, political campaigns focus on identifying their supporters and then devise ways to increase their supporters' turnout and decrease the turnout of their competition. When turnout percentage is no longer in question, political campaigns will become more about persuasion and vote conversion than pulling/suppressing voters.
There are some who philosophically oppose the idea of requiring citizens to vote. They argue that informed citizens will go out to vote on their own and that compelling misinformed or disinterested citizens to vote would lead to poorer choices. Some also don't want the government to keep records of who votes and who doesn't. They fear that such information come be abused. The pure libertarians oppose any measure that compels citizens to perform almost any act, including voting.
If voting becomes mandatory, citizens, who may otherwise not make an effort to vote, will accept their civic duty and do their best to inform themselves before election day. As for keeping records, Elections Canada already records who shows up to vote to protect against double voting. In fact, political parties currently also keep records. However, if mandatory voting is implemented, political parties will no longer need to keep record of voters' turnout as they will assume that ALL voters will come out.
Instead of dedicating campaign resources to identify voters' affiliation, encourage supporters to vote and discourage the supporters of opposition from voting, political parties will then focus their campaigns on discussing policies and voters' persuasion.
There is nothing more fundamental in a democratic society than the act of voting to select their government. It is a basic principle that ties citizens together, no less important than paying taxes. When all citizens participate together in choosing their government, there is an empowering sense of collective ownership.
Other measures need to be considered as part of a comprehensive electoral reforms package, but mandatory voting could be an answer to the rising trend of troubling voters' manipulation.
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