Hamilton voters will have a little free legal muscle on their side come Election Day to help make sure they get to cast a vote.
Local lawyer Craig Burley is offering his services free of charge on Monday to anyone who is turned away at a polling station and told that they can't vote.
In an election reporting record numbers at advanced polls alongside overworked employees and confusion over how to vote under the controversial Fair Elections Act, there's a decent chance Burley could have some work.
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"Any service that I can provide to the public on election day – I'm overjoyed to do it," Burley said. "My hope would be that everyone who shows up to vote and is eligible has a chance to cast a ballot."
"I just want to be available so people have an opportunity to exercise their rights. We've already seen examples … of people being turned away or who are unfamiliar with the law."
Advance poll numbers way up
Elections Canada says an estimated 3.6 million people voted during four days of advance polls running from Friday to Thanksgiving Monday, representing a 71 per cent increase over three days of advance polling in 2011.
But they haven't been doing so without hiccups. Police were called to a Vancouver poling station on Monday after a lineup of voters reported polls closing an hour early.
A federal elections information officer also angrily quit and stormed out of a Vancouver Centre advance polling station on Sunday, saying he was frustrated by on-going waits that voters are experiencing and the lack of help from Elections Canada.
Burley, a 14-year legal veteran who has also worked as a poll clerk for provincial in provincial elections, says he knows the "high burden" that poll workers face – but maintains that that can't have an impact on the voting public.
Burley says he plans to be a "resource for anyone who runs into difficulties" – ranging from support by phone, email or social media, to even coming to a polling station free of charge and advocating for someone who has been turned away.
"There are a whole host of reasons someone might be turned away from a polling station," he said. Some of them may be legitimate, like a voter simply going to the wrong spot.
Fair elections act draws criticism, concerns
But some are more complicated, especially with the new Fair Elections Act – which critics say will make it more difficult for students, the homeless, First Nations people and the elderly to vote.
Under the act, people can no longer use a voter identification card as a form of ID. Now they need a driver's licence or other government ID with their Hamilton address on it, or two pieces of ID, such as a passport or health card, and one must have their Hamilton address on it.
Burley says he'll make sure people know what they need at the polls, and provide whatever help he can to someone who needs it.
"There is definitely a heightened interest here – this is a divisive and long slog of an election."
You can contact Burley on Twitter @craig_burley, and contact him by phone at 905-870-0196.
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