Maggie Laidlaw outlines serious concerns with voters' list

Thursday, November 9, 2006

According to Ward 3 Councilor Maggie Laidlaw, the voters’ list is messed up to say the least. In a letter addressed to Provincial Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing John Geeretson, Laidlaw articulated some of her concerns; like the fact that one-third of households are renters and hard to track and the red tape involved in removing a deceased person from the list. Laidlaw cited numerous instances where either she or her campaign team encounter inconsistencies with the voters’ list and petitioned the Minister to require that photo id be presented when voters show up at the polling station.

Last Thursday, following the campus mayoral debate, Laidlaw as well as Laidlaw campaign staffer Susan Watson, Bruce Shapka of the Go Forwards Referendum Campaign and Pat Joannie, Executive Director of the Guelph and District Multicultural Centre held a press conference to discuss their findings and some ways the problem could be addressed.

It’s already been noted on this site that in the early voting for this election as many as 20 per cent of registered voters did not show up on the list because amendment forms weren’t filled out correctly.

Laidlaw first become concerned while campaigning door-to-door in Ward 3 using a Preliminary voters’ list and discovering that the names on the list and the occupants of the home didn’t often match up. The current statistic is that 1-in-5 Canadians moves every year; factoring in a large percentage of renters and a highly mobile student population in a university town like Guelph and a startling picture starts to develop. But according to Laidlaw and her associates, this problem isn’t just a Guelph problem but a province-wide one as well. At the heart of the matter is not just inequality in the enumeration process but the opportunity for voter fraud as well.

If you’re a property owner, you are more or less automatically enumerated under the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). However, if you are a tenant, student, non-owner spouse or an adult child living with your parents, you’re chances of getting on the voters’ list and being sent a voter card are significantly less likely; as are the chances of new Canadian citizens and lower income earners. Enumeration forms and Occupancy questionnaires are supposed to be sent out to units around town but many never receive them and of the number of forms sent out, only one-third are sent back to the clerk’s office. Some housing units actually don’t appear on the voters’ list at all, including a 30-unit complex in Ward 3, according to Laidlaw.

As for the houses whose existences are acknowledged on the voters’ list, the information as to who the home’s current occupant is may be five or ten years out of date. The problem here is that the city sends out roughly 70,000 voter cards, many of which aren’t reaching the people they should be leading to the sticky possibility of voter fraud. Showing up at the polling station with a voting card automatically gets you a ballot, no follow-up or verification is necessary.

The problems of an inaccurate voters’ list can also affect matters of the actual election. For instance, voters in this election will also decide if the city should keep the ward system in a referendum question. In order for the outcome of the referendum to be verified over 50 per cent of the people on the voters list have to turn out to vote. Even if an overwhelming majority of voters respond to the question one way or the other, the result would be null and void if less than half the people on the current list vote have voted.

Laidlaw came armed with suggestions; one of them was to insist that voters bring photo id along with their voting cards to the polling stations in order to make sure that no fraud occurs. But before the next election however, Laidlaw is asking for sweeping changes including a door-to-door enumeration starting eight weeks out from Election Day so that students in particular are listed and that the voting list is as up-to-date as possible. While Laidlaw concedes that this may seem like it costs more, it really saves in all the mail being sent out incorrectly to thousands of homes.

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