With C-23 looming, I need to apologize for my 2004 voting experiment

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image: James Di Fiore

This piece is an apology. Although I do not believe a story I wrote single-handedly changed electoral law, it has been used to support the development of the Fair Elections Act.

I am one of eight people who, since 1992, have been convicted of a voter fraud offence in Canada. The exact wording of my charge was "Applying to be on a list of electors twice."

The truth is that in order to write a story on possible voter fraud, I cast three ballots in the 2004 Federal election. One vote was for the candidate I thought best represented my riding, and two were deliberately spoiled ballots. 

It was remarkably easy to cast three ballots, and I never once considered the ideological implications a strict set of electoral laws seems to wield. I had been reading the Elections Act, as some political junkies find themselves doing from time to time, and noticed a provision that allowed people to vote in federal elections without any identification whatsoever. This puzzled me, so on Election Day I ventured out and successfully cast three ballots, all without any identification. 

And now I wish I could take them all back. 

Parliamentarians have used my story to help explain why they believe tougher voting regulations are needed during elections. Even while this was happening I still believed having identification or using the vouching system made more sense than allowing people to simply sign an on-the-spot registration form without proving they have the legal right to vote. It seemed impossible that our elections should be so unprotected from fraudsters or cheaters. 

It wasn't until the following federal election that CSIS began investigating the multiple cast ballots. The Toronto Star published a letter of mine excoriating Jean-Pierre Kingsley for an op-ed piece about how Canada's elections were the envy of the world. In my letter, I relayed the story of voting three times, and was put under investigation for the following eight months. 

The strange thing about being investigated for electoral fraud was that I could have remained quiet and the charges would have been dropped. Without my real name on the registration forms, they never would have been able to proceed, despite my public announcements. Then, I had to agree to be interviewed, agree to sign their evidence, agree to make recorded and handwritten statements, or they would have had nothing. Action against me required my full, unfettered cooperation. I gave it happily. I did vote three times, which was illegal.

In February 2008, Conservative MP Scott Reid mentioned my situation at a standing committee meeting in Ottawa. At the meeting, Reid was attempting to paint Elections Canada as being biased against the Conservative Party of Canada. He was responding to the In and Out scandal allegations, which Reid referred to as a "make believe scandal," and accused Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, of violating the Canada Elections Act by pursuing the case. Reid also mentioned the Liberal Party candidate who lost the election to Olivia Chow in 2004, former MP Tony Ianno, who publicly called for my prosecution after the election, arguing I had been an agent for Chow's campaign and was living proof voter fraud was a real problem in Canada. 

But voter fraud is not a problem in Canada.

This year, when the Harper government revealed their Fair Elections Act, the full scope of how I might have contributed to it finally became clear to me. The Act eliminates vouching altogether, based on questionable statistics. The main report from Harry Neufeld is cited by the Minister of Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, nearly every day, but Neufeld has stated Poilievre is drastically misinterpreting the report to fit with the idea that Canadian elections are fraught with fraud and irregularities. Poilievre and I chatted via Facebook this week and he recycled his main talking points after I pressed him on whether or not the government would institute a national/voter ID card to prevent disenfranchisement. 

"There are 39 accepted forms of ID. You do not need government issued ID and you do not need photo ID," Poilievre wrote. "Thanks for your feedback, James."

No worries, Pierre. 

As his detractors have pointed out, and in my own personal experience, the vast majority of these irregularities can be attributed to badly trained or incompetent staffers working at the polling stations. Simply put, Canada does not have a problem with voter fraud and the problems it does have with its elections are not due to the vouching system.

My case has been indirectly referenced by Poilievre in his quest to remove vouching from the list of options voters have when casting their ballots. This gives me a sad realization of my small role in the probable disenfranchisement of thousands of Canadians. 

Perhaps this story of regret can help shed light on the differences between safeguarding our elections, and empowering our ideologies. I would like to express my regret for unintentionally supporting the development of the elections act that is now before parliament. The issue reveals ideological behavior on the far right and the far left, but in the end the fight for democracy is very real. 

Or perhaps this story will continue to be used anecdotally to promote a legislative solution in search of an electoral problem. 

James Di Fiore is a Toronto freelance writer with past work in NOW Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and several online outlets.He also produces documentary films and has one published children's book.

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