With Canada currently being under a minority government, the nation could very well find itself going into a general election at any time. This raises a number of concerns for citizens’ safety and health if the COVID-19 pandemic is still considered to be out of control when election day comes. People may not feel safe or comfortable coming out to vote, and this could impact the democratic process.
was created to address this issue through amendments to the Canada Election Acts, and it’s
now in the hands of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. While the intentions may be totally benign, there could be some side effects that may undercut trust in the entire electoral process.
The concerns of running an election during a pandemic are valid. Electoral results could be skewed due to people choosing to stay home rather than going out to vote for fear of infection. If polling locations are crowded and lineups are long, COVID-19 infection breakouts could very well happen and result in the loss of human life. It’s prudent for legislation to be amended in order to mitigate any risks to citizens taking part in the electoral process. However, these measures should only be implemented if the pandemic has not been brought under control at the time of voting.
Bill C-19 does state that the new rules are temporary, and that’s a good thing. But the bill isn’t clear on how bad the state of emergency would have to be in order to invoke the “temporary rules,” and that’s troubling.
Most of the measures packed into the bill are based on common sense. Expanding the voting period to three days in order to reduce crowding at polling stations is a good idea. Giving additional voting days to voters residing in long-term care facilities makes sense as well. The provisions for increased mail-in voting options should be used only in the most dire of emergencies, however.
There are a number of problems with mail-in balloting options. We need only to look at the issues our American neighbours recently endured in their election due to mail-in ballots. There’s no simple way to do large-scale mail-in balloting, and errors are bound to be made. Even if no actual electoral malfeasance is happening, some people will point to any hiccups in the process as examples of potential vote-rigging. For a democracy to function effectively, people need to have faith and trust in the integrity of the electoral system. Mail-in balloting, especially if done in a rushed and potentially disorganized manner, can sow the seeds of distrust in the process throughout the entire electorate.
Mail-in ballots can potentially remove the ability for some to cast their vote in secret. How can one tell if an abusive spouse wasn't looking over the shoulder of the person filling out the ballot and telling them how to vote? What would keep unprincipled labour organizers or employers from trying to pressure workers to show their ballots? People are barred from taking their cameras into voting booths and taking pictures of their ballots for these very reasons. While cases of electoral abuse of this nature are rare enough that they likely won’t impact the outcome of an election, it still means that some vulnerable people may not be able to exercise their right to vote freely due to intimidation. This unintended consequence of mail-in ballots can’t be taken lightly.
It’s looking increasingly likely that we won’t see a general election until this fall at the earliest. By then, vaccines will have been widely distributed and COVID-19 cases will likely be well in decline. Even now, people are gathering in large numbers while engaging in activities such as grocery shopping or even getting vaccinated, and we aren’t seeing large outbreaks as a result. We’ve created protocols that have made such endeavours safe. Having a person come into a polling station and casting a ballot is no more dangerous than going to any big box store, and electoral staff aren’t putting themselves at any more risk than retail clerks currently do
We are living in tense, perilous times. Our next election is sure to be sharply contested and heated. The population is polarized on many issues. No matter who wins the next election, there will inevitably be some people very upset with the outcome. It’s essential that people trust the electoral process and feel that it was run in a fair manner. This may be impossible to do if we allow increased mail-in ballot measures.
If Bill C-19 is to pass before the next election, it must be amended to set the bar much higher for the invocation of measures that would increase mail-in balloting. Let's not repeat the mistakes we saw so recently made south of the border.
Cory Morgan is a columnist and business owner based in Calgary.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.