OTTAWA – “Mr. Speaker, the main challenge for our electoral democracy is not voter fraud but voter participation. Eliminating the voter ID card does not improve the integrity of the system.” — Liberal MP Andy Fillmore, parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions, May 4 in the House of Commons.
They’re familiar to millions of Canadians, a sure sign that a federal election is just around the corner. But the voter information cards that turn up in mailboxes and get pushed through door slots have generated plenty of partisan sparks.
A Liberal bill now before Parliament would restore the card as a form of ID — in tandem with another acceptable document — on election day.
The proposal has prompted persistent criticism from the Conservatives, who charge that in 2015, 986,613 voter information cards had inaccurate data, were sent to the wrong address or were not complete. The clear suggestion: allowing the card as an ID document opens the door to voter fraud.
Liberal MP Andy Fillmore, parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions, disputed the notion earlier this month, saying that barring the information card from the list of acceptable ID “does not improve the integrity of the system.”
How accurate were the Liberal member’s claims?
Spoiler Alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of “a little baloney.” The assertion is mostly accurate but more information is required. Here’s why:
About three weeks before election day, Elections Canada mails voter information cards, which include a person’s address, to electors.
For the November 2010 byelections and the 2011 general election, the federal agency ran a pilot project at polling places serving people who sometimes have difficulty providing proof of address: seniors’ residences, long-term care facilities, First Nations reserves and on-campus student residences.
Once there, electors were allowed to prove their address by showing their personalized voter information card, as long as they also showed another accepted ID card to prove their name.
Following that vote, the Conservative government of the day banned the card as a type of identification.
After the 2015 election, a Statistics Canada survey found that an estimated 172,000 non-voters cited a lack of ID as their reason for not casting a ballot.
VOTER ID: HOW IT WORKS
When electors go to the polling station, they need to prove who they are and where they live. Most electors can easily do so with a driver’s licence, Elections Canada says.
However, approximately 14 per cent of adults in Canada do not have a licence. Most of them likely have to use two pieces of ID, both with their name and one with their address — for example, a health card plus a utility bill, the agency notes.
In 2016, Elections Canada recommended ending the prohibition on using a voter information card as proof of address.
Prior to elections, advertisements advise people to watch for their card in the mail, and to contact the elections agency if they don’t get one or if their card needs updating.
Individuals can initiate updates, for example by using the online voter registration service, Elections Canada says. In addition, returning-officer staff make updates, going door-to-door in neighbourhoods with high mobility, registering people who have moved in and removing the names of people who no longer live there.
At no time have electors been allowed to vote by showing a voter information card as their only piece of identification, the agency adds — they have always been required to show a second piece of ID along with it.
“We recognize that some have raised concerns,” Elections Canada said in a statement.
“However, it should be noted that there are a variety of safeguards in the electoral process that prevent people who are not eligible to vote from casting a ballot, to ensure electors who cast a ballot do so in the correct electoral district, and to prevent electors from voting more than once.”
For its part, the democratic institutions minister’s office says eliminating the card prevented many people from voting in 2015. “Our democracy is stronger when more Canadians, not fewer, are able to vote,” said Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for the minister.
“There’s been very little if any evidence that there has been fraudulent voting — double-voting or impersonation by people (through) misuse of the card,” said Jon Pammett, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“It’s not inconceivable that this could happen in very isolated cases.”
Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer from 2007 to 2016, said errors on information cards have occurred because people moved or changed their name, or the location of the polling station was incorrect.
“We didn’t get complaints about misuse of the (card),” he said. “There’s been absolutely no evidence.”
After elections, officials go over records to single out any instances of repeat or ineligible voting, Mayrand added. “Very rarely does that lead to any criminal prosecution.”
Claiming the information card opens the door to fraud is “just blatantly manipulative,” said Richard Johnston, Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections and representation at the University of British Columbia.
“It’s actually kind of infuriating, as a matter of fact,” he said. “Undoubtedly, there are administrative glitches. But the question of electoral fraud just was not an issue.”
THE PRANKIn 2013, Elections Canada slapped two Montrealers on the wrist for a voting stunt that was recorded for a popular TV comedy show. Each received an extra voter information card before the 2011 federal election, one for their electoral district and another for a neighbouring one.
On election day, they each cast ballots at two polling stations, to show it could be done (though they both spoiled their second ballots).
While there is scant evidence of attempted electoral fraud involving voter information cards, it may indeed be possible for someone to use a card with an incorrect address to vote in the wrong riding, or perhaps vote twice, as the Montreal pranksters demonstrated.
Still, they might be caught trying to do so and it would be difficult to perpetrate large-scale fraud because many inaccurate cards — and people willing to misuse them — would be needed.
For these reasons, Fillmore’s claim contains “a little baloney.”
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney – the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney – the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney – the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney – the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney – the statement is completely inaccurate