Today’s Poll

Op/Ed: Don't mistake voter engagement for voter tracking

Dermod Travis
By Dermod Travis
March 31st, 2015

Hear the one about four political parties that walked into a Vancouver hotel with the Chief Electoral Officer last September? Sorry, no punchline. But the parties had reason to chuckle.

Selflessly, the four proposed to the Chief Electoral Officer, Dr. Keith Archer, and Elections B.C. that political parties be given a province-wide “participation extract” following an election. Nice way of saying: who voted, by name and address.

One party operative sold it – get ready for this – as “a tool that allows parties to engage voters on an ongoing basis.” Yeah, right.

Someone said it’s done in Ontario. Voters there don’t seem to have warmed up to it though. Turnout is lower today that it was before all that ongoing engagement got underway. Last year, 52.1 per cent.

It takes some doing to have a lower turnout than B.C., but Ontario pulled it off.

To his credit, Dr. Archer saw a live grenade and didn’t grab it. A week later, in his report to the B.C. legislature, he took no position on the request. Yet, mysteriously, there it was in Bill 20 tabled by the government last week.

If passed, there will still be the little matter of the hoops one has to jump through to register a party to get a copy of the list.

In Ontario, it requires 1,000 signatures from voters and the party leader must attest annually that its purpose is to endorse candidates and support their election.

In B.C.? Two signatures, no attestation and you don’t have to run a candidate at all, as long as you run two in every other election.

And what about independent candidates? Will they be given the list for their riding? Forty-six ran last time.

One person noted that party scrutineers can already record who has voted and claimed that the information is “often kept by parties.”

Not so sure about the legal niceties of that. Elections B.C. spent a year working on privacy issues and concluded it didn’t have the legal authority to disclose participation records. So if they don’t have it, why would a party assume it does?

It may be fruitful to ask B.C.’s privacy commissioner to take a peak at the type of information parties collect on voters and how they obtained it?
Others have pointed out that the list was once posted publicly, back when posted meant on a telephone poll, not online.

It was a neighbourhood list, not one with 3.1 million names on it. And it was a list of voters, not a list of who had voted. No one wore the equivalent of a scarlet letter for abstaining.

And that’s the next problem with this bright idea: in addition to identifying who voted, by default it would also identify who didn’t.

Last November, The Province newspaper obtained a corporate memo from Wall Financial Corporation – one of Vision Vancouver’s biggest donors – encouraging “all associates” to vote for the party.

The memo was a dumb idea, but at least the associates never had to fear Mr. Wall finding out that they hadn’t voted, a fear which could become very real if this measure is adopted.

Which brings us to the secret ballot. It ain’t so secret any more.
In the last Quebec election, a candidate won with 92.1 per cent of the popular vote.

That’s not a typo.

And while that riding is clearly one extreme, ridings are divided into polling sections and it’s not uncommon for candidates to get more than 70 or 80 per cent of the popular vote in some. Andrew Wilkinson, Jenny Kwan and Ralph Sultan – just to name three B.C. MLAs – all pulled it off in 2013.

Former Liberal MP Tom Wappel once had to apologize for not helping a constituent because he had voted for the Alliance party. That was in 2001 when voter tracking was still in its pubescent phase.

Last September’s proposal by the four parties isn’t about engaging voters, it’s about tracking voters in an era of data mining. It will make it easier for parties to identify the likelihood of how you voted and whether you’re even worth their campaign efforts in the future.

And that’s not good for the political system.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

Categories: Op/Ed

Other News Stories