10/21/2014 08:49 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer says ballot secrecy needs strengthening

HALIFAX - The case of a man who posted on social media a photo of his marked vote in Nova Scotia's election has prompted the province's elections agency to call for legislative amendments to strengthen ballot secrecy provisions.

Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer said Tuesday the act is a breach of the province's Elections Act and a fundamental principle of free elections — the secret ballot — is challenged by such an offence.

But Richard Temporale said a review of the case after it was investigated by the RCMP concluded there wasn't a likelihood of conviction.

Temporale did not identify the man in the case, but Parker Donham, a communications consultant and political blogger, said Temporale told him Tuesday that he would not be charged.

Donham posted a picture of his ballot cast in an advance poll in last year's provincial election to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He said he did so to make clear to his friends and followers he was voting for a Progressive Conservative because most people he knows would have assumed he wouldn't.

The Elections Act says nobody in a polling station during voting hours can use a recording or communication device with the exception of election officers.

Donham said he didn't violate the act because it doesn't clearly state that cameras are not allowed. He also said he was exercising his freedom of speech as guaranteed by the charter.

"At it's heart what I did was an act of political speech," he said.

But Dana Doiron, a spokesman for Elections Nova Scotia, said legislation needs to be changed to make explicit that the use of cameras of any kind is illegal.

Doiron said the intent of the act has always been to prevent taking photographs in polling booths, adding that problems could arise if it is not addressed.

"It's important that cameras not be used to take picture of ballots ... because this would provide proof of how people voted which leads to potential of coercion and bribery," he said.

Doiron said there is similar legislation across Canada both federally and provincially.

Donham disagrees with Doiron's position, saying the true risk to democracy is disinterest from younger voters.

"How might you engage younger voters? With social media and things like selfies," he said.

"Elections Nova Scotia needs to dial its clock forward about a half a century and realize the impediments we're facing today are completely different from the ones faced when the act was written."

Premier Stephen McNeil said the concerns expressed by Elections Nova Scotia are valid, although he said he hasn't given much thought to the issue yet.

"Of all the challenges facing me today, finding out whether or not you can take a picture of your ballot isn't something I've been thinking about," McNeil said.

He said the minister responsible for the Elections Act, Lena Metlege Diab, will meet with Elections Nova Scotia officials to discuss the matter.

"They will lay the case for why they think it should happen and then decisions will be made," he said.

Donham said if the act is changed, he may post his vote again on social media.

"That's a decision to make when we see the actual wording (of the law) and figure out my circumstances at the time," he said.

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