Last week, I wrote about election laws in Canada. That got me thinking about election nastiness that we’ve seen in the U.S., and I thought I’d compare that to the Canadian experience to see if there are any instances of legal challenges within Canadian electoral law.
Not surprisingly, our experience has been kinder and gentler than that of our southern neighbours. Widespread fraud or other difficulties have not occurred.
That’s not to say that our track record is unblemished. The first national election was very different than current elections.
Ballots were not cast in secret, so those around knew exactly how you voted. The secret ballot was not introduced in Canada until 1874.
In addition, only males of British heritage and of the upper classes could even cast a vote. It was not until the First World War that women and other groups got the right to vote.
There was no limit on either campaign spending or contributions, leaving it open for wealthy and influential people to buy politicians.
It was widely known and often accepted that bribes and scare tactics were used to influence voters.
Through a series of changes to federal legislation spanning more than 100 years, voter fraud on any large scale or organized basis has been virtually non-existent in Canada.
While there may be a few instances of individualized voter irregularities, most of those are caught and sanctions quickly applied.
The identification requirements in this federal election should reduce even that small number of events. Canada has a history of which we can be proud.
Compare this to what happens in many other countries. We are used to international stories from Third World countries where elections are bloodbaths. And look at the U.S., where problems have been continuing over centuries.
In the 2003 report on U.S. voting, authors L. Minnite and D. Callahan explored what occurred.
The list of both organized and individualized types of fraud is relatively long. Various groups have stuffed ballot boxes with fake votes or obtained and sent in fraudulent mail-in ballots.
Local officials in parties or candidates have removed unsuitable ballots from voters’ boxes and even destroyed them before they could be counted.
Individual voters have voted more than once, either in their own name or someone else’s, and either for pay or out of loyalty to a party or candidate.
In 1997, Xavier Suarez (Mayor Loco) narrowly beat Joe Carollo (Crazy Joe) in a Miami mayoral race. It was later determined that many people who cast their ballots for him were paid and bussed in from other counties and not even entitled to vote.
Other voters, often poor and homeless, were paid $10 for each vote they cast. Carollo sued and won, and a new election was ordered.
The judge was careful to say that there was no evidence that Suarez knew about what was going on, but Carollo alleged he was behind it.
The new election was to be held 60 days after the judgment, but a fight started over who ran Miami in the interim.
Canada’s elections may seem ho-hum by comparison, but we should be glad to live in a place where there is truth and certainty in the electoral process.
Vote May 2 and protect your democratic right to do so.
Rick Danyliuk is a lawyer with McDougall Gauley LLP in Saskatoon.