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LINDSAY: Why voter fraud could impact Canadian elections

When people can vote without proving they are Canadian citizens, the results of every election should be questioned, especially if the outcome in any riding was close.

Christopher Lindsay Montreal QC

It is rare that people are charged with voter fraud in Canada. This is often cited as proof that illegal voting is not a serious problem. On the contrary, just because people aren’t getting caught doing something doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it. If a non-citizen wants to vote in a Canadian election, it is a very easy crime to commit, and the odds of getting caught are extremely low. Case in point: To vote in a BC election, there are three legal requirements: You must be a Canadian citizen, be 18 years old on election day, and have lived in the province for six months.

You don't have to be a citizen to obtain voter registration ID

If you meet these requirements and want to vote, you can register online. You will need one of the following pieces of ID:

  • B.C. driver’s licence
  • B.C. Identification Card
  • Social Insurance Number
  • Personal Health Number

However, there is a problem with all these forms of ID. You don’t have to be a Canadian citizen to obtain any of them! Missing from the list is ID that would (in most cases) prove Canadian citizenship: a birth certificate, a citizenship card, or a citizenship certificate. Shockingly, the BC government doesn’t require anyone to prove they are a citizen before they vote. According to Rebecca Penz with Elections BC, “The system is an honour system for confirming that you are in fact a citizen. We don’t have the ability to use records such as health records to validate citizenship.” To ensure that people who vote are citizens, Elections BC makes voters sign a pledge. Just cross your fingers and promise that you are an eligible voter, and the government will take you at your word. (Too bad you couldn’t pay your income taxes that way. Just sign a pledge that you paid your taxes, and the government won’t check to see if you actually paid.)

Voter fraud requires somebody to be reported

Defenders of the “honour system” for voter registration will point to the fact that very few people have been charged with voter fraud. This proves nothing. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The only way to catch a non-citizen voting is if someone reports them. And the people who know you the best —your friends and family members—are highly unlikely to do that. The punishment for voter fraud is “fines up to $20,000, imprisonment for up to two years, or both.” Given that a single vote rarely changes the outcome of an election, why would your friends or family call the police if you voted illegally? The penalty is severe. What’s more, if someone else accused you, the accuser would have to be at the polling station when you voted and have knowledge that you are not a Canadian citizen. These two things are unlikely to happen at the same time. Hence, there is no way of knowing how widespread of a problem voter fraud actually is.

Voters should prove their citizenship before voting

Fortunately, voter fraud is a problem that can be easily solved. Here are two simple ways to fix the current loophole in the voter registration process:

  • When a person registers to vote, they should have to prove their citizenship with the necessary documentation. The federal government could make this easier by issuing citizenship cards to all citizens.
  • Following an election, a certain percentage of people who voted should be randomly cross-checked to see if they are Canadian citizens. Anyone who isn’t a citizen would be prosecuted. This would serve as a powerful deterrent to illegal voting.

When people can vote without proving they are Canadian citizens, the results of every election should be questioned, especially if the outcome in any riding was close. Unfortunately, politicians are not willing to ensure the integrity of our elections. In our current political environment, giving people easy access to vote is more important than preventing voter fraud. Making it more difficult to vote is called “voter suppression.” As a result, voter fraud will continue unchecked and unabated with an unknown number of non-citizens voting in every election. When proof of citizenship is not required, illegal voting is sure to follow. Image Credit:

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