Elections Canada investigates thousands of 2019 ballots with unclear evidence of citizenship

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Elections Canada says it has identified approximately 3,500 cases of people who voted in the 2019 federal election where there was conflicting evidence as to their citizenship, CBC News has learned. But nearly a year after Canadians went to the polls, the agency says it is still trying to determine how many of those cases – if any – involved non-Canadian citizens voting.

The fear that foreign nationals or permanent residents would take advantage of Canada’s honor system and vote illegally was one of the themes most frequently documented by Elections Canada while monitoring social media ahead of the Oct. 21 election, according to the CBC analysis of the agency. internal documents. Some people have asked the agency to require voters to present proof of citizenship at the polls, such as a passport.

But numerous studies in the United States have shown that stricter electoral requirements – allegedly introduced to prevent fraud – have served as a form of voter suppression, deterring thousands of voters and depriving racial minorities of their rights.

Elections Canada is still conducting its own analysis, but its initial assessment shows that the 2019 ballots containing conflicting information about the citizenship under review represented only 0.02% of all votes cast – and were so widely distributed that ‘they could not have influenced the outcome in a particular constituency. .

“No results in any riding would have been affected by possible instances of non-citizen voting,” Elections Canada said in a statement.

“We have no evidence to suggest an organized or large-scale effort to disrupt the electoral process. “

The number of cases could turn out to be much lower

CBC News asked for a breakdown of electoral districts where Elections Canada found conflicting citizenship information. The agency said it would be “premature” to share the data because “an analysis is still ongoing.”

Michael Pal, professor of law at the University of Ottawa, studies electoral laws in Canada. He said he would be surprised if it turned out that thousands of non-citizens voted last year.

Pal said he expects the number of suspicious ballots to drop significantly during Elections Canada’s verification process.

“Whenever there are reports like this, it’s often about paperwork errors or errors that can be traced,” he said.

“There was a lot of noise and fury about it and non-citizens would have voted in the United States. And all the academic research and think tank research shows that worrying was overblown and happens very rarely, if at all. “

Voting for non-citizens is not happening on a scale large enough to put in place stricter voter identification rules and could do more harm than good, the University of Ottawa professor said. 1:10

Each case has its own written record

In the spring of 2019, Elections Canada said it was removing 103,000 people from the federal register of electors who it said were not Canadian citizens.

Bill C-76 also gave Elections Canada the power for the first time to return its voters list with data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to find cases of permanent residents or foreign nationals voting illegally.

Elections Canada said it always follows the paper trail by opening sealed ballot bags containing all documents related to each file.

This “rigorous” and labor-intensive process has been slowed by COVID-19 restrictions and the agency’s focus on preparing for the possibility of a snap election in the midst of a pandemic, the agency said.

“Each potential case is unique and has its own paper trail,” Elections Canada said. “Each case must therefore be verified separately …”

Canadians could go to the polls again before the agency refers any suspicious cases to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté, for investigation.

On October 8, Côté’s office announced that he had laid two charges against a non-Canadian accused of voting fraudulently five years ago. The office said the man was accused of registering to vote in the constituency of Don Valley East in Ontario knowing he was not eligible and of voting in 2015 knowing he was not was not qualified.

Requiring Canadians to present proof of citizenship at the polls could do more harm than good and deter voters from voting, election experts say. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

Permanent resident asks for stricter identification requirements

Permanent resident Paul Gabriel said it was “unbelievable and frightening” that Elections Canada took so long to detect such cases. He argues that the agency should make changes before the next election to correct what he calls a “loophole.”

It is illegal under the Canada Elections Act for a non-Canadian citizen to vote knowing they are not eligible. However, voters are not required to present proof of citizenship at the polls. Gabriel said that should change.

He is a fruit importer living in Beiseker, Alberta, born in the UK and living in Canada for 19 years. He said he mistakenly received a voter information card in the mail for the first time in 2019 and posted a photo online with a warning shared by thousands of people.

Paul Gabriel says Canada should require proof of citizenship at the polls and apply the law. (Colin Hall / CBC News)

“I can vote with this card and an Alberta driver’s license, but I’m NOT a Canadian citizen,” Gabriel wrote on Facebook on October 7, 2019. “I won’t vote because I’m not legally there allowed, but others will.

“Your election is about to be stolen from you by illegal voters and we all know who gave them that ability and who they will vote for. ”

Elections Canada has said that the people receiving the cards may have mistakenly provided incorrect information to another federal or provincial facility when filling out a provincial health card questionnaire.

“It was an honest and genuine mistake,” said Gabriel – who said he believed permanent residents should be able to vote since they pay taxes. “But it shows how flawed the voting system is. ”

Elections Canada has said that only countries that issue national ID cards require proof of ID at the polls – Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do not. It costs $ 120 for a five-year Canadian passport, which is beyond the means of some Canadians. Birth certificates also come with a price tag and do not include a photo.

Balancing the risks

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault is working on a series of recommendations from the last federal election to be presented to Parliament in spring 2021.

“Any recommendation in this area should ensure the integrity of the election by carefully balancing the risks of voting non-citizens with the risk of excluding potentially large numbers of Canadians who lack documentary evidence of their citizenship,” the agency said in a statement.

Holly Ann Garnett is an assistant professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada studying electoral integrity. She said changing the voting requirements in Canada would do more harm than good.

“I think the issue of deterring legitimate voters from voting is more crucial than the slim chance that a non-citizen will vote,” she said.

Garnett said the evidence consistently shows that when countries increase the cost or difficulty of voting – through stricter voter identification rules or early registration – turnout declines in certain demographics.

“The real problem here, then, is the challenge of ensuring that voting is accessible, especially for population groups who are already not likely to vote,” she said.

Wisconsin is a good example. Strict identity laws may have kept 17,000 or more registered voters from the polls in the last federal election, according to a state university study.

Convictions are rare

The Commissioner of Federal Elections “considers illegal voting to be one of the most serious violations that undermines the integrity of the electoral process,” the office said. The penalty for electoral fraud can be up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $ 50,000.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau votes with his son Hadrien in Montreal, Monday, October 21, 2019 (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

The commissioner’s office said it could opt for other sanctions and responses to electoral fraud cases – warning letters, compliance agreements or administrative fines, to name a few.

In 2006, a non-Canadian citizen who voted here received an absolute discharge after doing 30 hours of community service; the court concluded that the offender did not intend to influence the vote.

In 1999, two others pleaded guilty after voting in the 1997 general election, knowing that they were not eligible because they were not Canadians. They had to pay $ 300 to a charity and received an absolute discharge.

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