Lack of proper ID shuts out some northern voters at advance polls

Election officials have confirmed that some voters in Nunavut and the Yukon were turned away from advance federal polls because they didn't have adequate identification.

Election officials have confirmed that some voters in Nunavut and the Yukon were turned away from advance federal polls because they didn't have adequate identification, prompting critics to warn that new ID rules could shut out more voters on Oct. 14.

This month's federal election is the first to require all voters to show proof of identity, thanks to changes to the federal Elections Act made last year.

That proof of identity can be in the form of a single piece of government-issued photo ID, like a driver's licence, or two pieces of non-photo identification that show name and address when combined, such as a health card and a utility bill.

About 10 per cent of Nunavummiut who showed up at advance polls on Friday, Saturday and Monday were denied access to vote because of inadequate ID, Elections Canada spokesman David Rutherford told CBC News.

"A little over 200 voters turned out to vote, and of the 200 voters, around 23 of them wound up not being able to vote," Rutherford said Wednesday.

In the Yukon, returning officer Sue Edelman said some voters there were also turned away because they didn't have proper identification. She said she doesn't know how many people were affected, but added her staff will keep track of how many people are turned away on Tuesday, election day.

"I don't know how many people that we asked to come back with their proper identification never did return; I don't have those numbers," Edelman said Thursday.

Edelman said the Elections Act changes may not be translating smoothly into the reality of a northern lifestyle, in which identification has not been required before.

Voters who don't have any identification can be vouched for by another person who is registered in the same polling division, according to Elections Canada. The full list of identification options is available on its website.

Changes 'a mistake in the first place': critic

In Nunavut, some of the 23 who were turned away came back with proper ID and cast ballots, Rutherford said.

But the fact that people were turned away in the first place did not impress critics like Duff Conacher of the Ottawa-based citizen advocacy organization Democracy Watch.

"This whole move to [require] voter identification was a mistake in the first place," Conacher said of the Elections Act changes, which were made to prevent voter fraud.

Conacher said there was never a significant problem with voter fraud in Canada, and the new ID requirements will only lead to lower voter turnout and election day headaches.

"The biggest scandals will be the ridings where someone wins by 20 [or] 30 votes and 100 people have been turned away," he said.

"We will have at least a couple of ridings that are like that, which will be a very similar situation to Florida [in] 2000 in the U.S. presidential campaign, where the courts will be deciding who won, and people will be appealing that they were turned away unjustifiably."

Rutherford noted that Elections Canada simply administers the Elections Act, and any changes would be up to Parliament.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is lobbying for changes. On Thursday, the group said it will take part in a constitutional challenge of the Elections Act, slated for sometime next year.

The association argues that the need for ID that shows a current residential address discriminates against students, transient workers and rural residents.

"People live halfway up mountains or across lakes, we don't fit into the slots that the federal government often tries to put us into," executive director Murray Mollard said.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada officials are urging anyone heading to polling stations to ensure they bring ID that bears both their name and address, even if that ID is a utility bill or a rent receipt.

Advance voter turnout in the North (Source: Elections Canada)
 Territory 2008 election 2006 election
 Nunavut 209 538
 Northwest Territories 1,118 1,205
 Yukon 1,492 1,241
 Canada total 1,459,253 1,561,039