Last Ditch Effort to Stop Fair Elections Act Fails

Critics say the Conservatives plan is aimed at getting fewer young people to vote.

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Jul 17 2015, 9:02pm

Which politician is the one wearing the black hat? Photo via Prime Minister's Office

Anyone planning to vote in the upcoming federal election should get their ID in order, fast.

A last ditch effort to halt the Fair Elections Act—a contentious piece of legislation that has brought in stricter ID rules and could limit voters' access to the polls—has failed. And with the possibility of an early election, those planning to mark a ballot could face a tighter timeline to make sure they can prove their current address.

On Friday, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Stinson refused to grant an injunction against the Act, declaring that last-minute changes could be seen as unfair.

Though he agreed that the applicants made the case that some voters could be irreparably harmed by losing access to their ballots, Stinson wrote in his decision, "It is problematic to change the rules for elections at the last minute through the blunt instrument of judicial intervention."

Earlier this month, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students asked the judge for an injunction, arguing that the Act's new voter ID rules could disenfranchise young, Indigenous, and homeless voters in particular.

The current voter ID requirements can be found here. For those who have moved recently, live on a reserve, or have no fixed address, the information is particularly pressing, and it will be up to Elections Canada to communicate these new rules to electors.

To understand the new rules, we have to go all the way back to 2007. That year the Elections Act was amended to make it mandatory for electors to have their name and address on their ID. Previously, all you needed to do to vote was to show up at the polling station and state your name.

After the 2008 federal election, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer noticed that students, Indigenous voters on reserves, and seniors in long-term care homes found it harder to vote as a result of the new rules. So in the 2011 election, the CEO allowed these groups to use their voter information cards as ID, and 400,000 people took advantage of his permission slip and used them to vote.

In the lead up to this year's federal election, the CEO said he planned to let all eligible voters across the country use the cards to vote, as long as they had one other piece of ID. But in December, the Fair Elections Act became law, and wiped out that possibility. The new rules state that the voting cards that come in the mail three weeks before the election cannot be used as ID.

The Act also makes vouching a higher hurdle to clear. Previously, voters could have someone from their polling district vouch for them if they didn't have ID with their address on it. Someone in your polling district can still vouch for you, but they have to do so in writing, and you need two valid pieces of ID that show your name.

The federal government says the Act is necessary to stop voter fraud.

"If one person votes illegally, that cancels my vote," government lawyer Christine Mohr told the court.

Mohr argued it would be "extraordinary" for the court to grant the injunction, and that granting an injunction in relation to an election "has never been done," CBC reported.

Outside the courtroom earlier this month, Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, told VICE the Fair Elections Act is similar to voter suppression efforts in the US.

"This kind of legislation basically says: you're not welcome, don't bother," she said. "And that's the big concern—that it's just anti-democratic. It dissuades people from voting."

Barlow argued the new ID rules should be especially worrying considering the downward trend in the number of people who turn up to vote. Only 39 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 25 voted in the last federal election, she pointed out.

"The tenor of all this is basically, we don't want you to vote," Barlow said.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter.

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