Robocall scandal strikes at ‘absolute’ right to unimpeded vote

It would be remiss of this paper not to add a voice of concern about the organized efforts some individuals, perhaps organizations, took during last year’s federal election campaign in an effort to subvert the process.

A secret ballot, unimpeded, is a cornerstone of the democratic election process we take for granted.

There are rules about elections and most ordinary people know at least some of them: that it is illegal to pull down or deface campaign posters; that a candidate is forbidden from displaying campaign literature or posters at a polling place; that candidate or political party advertising is forbidden on election day.

These are the well-known rules, among many others, and they all point to the same thing: that Canadians have the absolute right to be able to go to the place where they are to cast their votes and to be able to do so peacefully, without last-minute harangues and even to be able to give the choice of candidate and/or party some final hour contemplation, free from self-serving pleas by candidates and parties.

When you think about it, these rules are meant to encourage a thoughtful electorate and also an electorate that makes ballot choices without either fear of retribution or because of the promise of financial gain.

When telephone calls, ostensibly from Elections Canada, reach ordinary citizens and advise them to vote somewhere other than their assigned polling place, this is not only a fraudulent practice but, worse than that, it undermines the entire “without fear or favour” ideal of our democratic voting process.

Discouraging people from voting by petty chicanery is a low, very low practice.

Once in a while it may be effective. But more important than that, people whose rights have been subjected to this kind of abuse may easily become discouraged with the process and become “former voters.”

In Northern Ontario, the Nipissing-Temiskaming riding was one of the 40-odd across Canada where misleading and illegal calls were made in order to confuse specified voters about where to vote.

This riding, held by a Liberal MP through the previous three elections, was captured by the Conservatives after the 2012 election, but only by a factor of 18 votes.

Purposefully targeted misinformation and an extremely narrow margin of victory look very much like by-election territory if Elections Canada wants to make a good show of just how abominable this practice is, as it should.

This voting day misinformation practice must be rooted out and very severe penalties applied to anyone found to be involved with the practice whether directly or indirectly.

To do otherwise shames our traditions and diminishes our place in the world as a spotless and leading democracy.