A former B.C. elections official who wrote a report on voting irregularities in the 2011 federal election told MPs at a parliamentary committee Thursday he is convinced there is no substantial evidence that voter fraud takes place.

Former B.C.elections chief Harry Neufeld was testifying before the procedure and House affairs committee.

Some MPs clearly have different views about the potential for voter fraud, including Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, who told the House of Commons this week about a phone call he received during the 2006 election, in which he alleges someone offered him some voter information cards that had apparently been scooped up from apartment building lobbies.

Although the cards, mailed to every eligible voter, were not meant to be utilized as ID in 2006, it's believed by some that voters occasionally used the cards to prove their address so they could vote.

Conservative MP Scott Reid told the committee hearing on Tuesday that Hawn would speak about the issue at the committee Thursday. Hawn in fact showed up at the committee hearing Thursday and questioned Neufeld, and then told the committee he would testify himself next week.

Harry Neufeld and Laurie Hawn

Former B.C. elections official Harry Neufeld, left, is testifying Thursday before MPs reviewing the government's Fair Elections Act. Conservative MP Laurie Hawn told the House of Commons this week he was approached in 2006 and offered voter information cards obtained from apartment buildings. (Elections B.C./Canadian Press)

Hawn did make a complaint to Elections Canada in 2006, not about voting information cards, but about people on the voters list he claims were using offices and post office boxes as their residential addresses in his riding.

Both scenarios point to at least the possibility of voter fraud, and Hawn's stories echo many heard from politicians and political operatives over the years who complain, without offering solid proof, that different kinds of voter fraud are attempted on voting days.

Neufeld wrote a report for Elections Canada on voting procedural problems that occurred in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre in the 2011 federal election.

But, he told the Canadian Press, there's not a shred of evidence there have been more than "a handful" of cases of deliberate voter fraud in either federal or provincial elections.

The procedure and house affairs committee is meeting and hearing witnesses as it studies the Fair Elections Act, which seeks to ban the practice of one voter vouching for another voter who does not possess proper ID, as well as the use of voter information cards as identification.

Example of voter fraud

One person who is not appearing at the committee but who offers a perspective on the issue is freelance reporter James Di Fiore.

Di Fiore is one of the few people in Canada convicted of voter fraud at the ballot box.

Jame Di Fiore

James Di Fiore was convicted of voter fraud because he wrote an article about how easy it was to receive more than one ballot in an election. (Linkedin)

In 2004, Di Fiore filled out voter registration certificates at three different polls in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.

He says he did it to show how ridiculous he thought it was, at the time, to allow people a ballot without first showing ID. It wasn't until 2007 that rules were changed to ensure voters provide proof of their names and addresses.

Di Fiore wrote about his experience in an article for Toronto's NOW magazine entitled "How I could have voted three times".  In the article Di Fiore explained he voted only once and then spoiled the other two ballots he was given.

However, Elections Canada pursued him and in 2008 he was eventually convicted of voter fraud and fined $250.

Reached by phone in Toronto, Di Fiore said, "The prosecution asked for a $5,000 fine and 90 days in prison. And the judge looked at me, and said how much did you get paid to do the story? And I said $250, that's what NOW paid me."

Despite his experience, Di Fiore doesn't think voter fraud is widespread. "I think it would be hard to execute because you'd have to let in numerous operatives on the same secret and it's hard to plug a leak like that."

He isn't a fan of the Fair Elections Act, and thinks vouching serves a useful purpose in a democracy, calling it a "moderate, middle position." He added, "I think it would be very difficult to sway an election by utilizing or abusing the vouching system."

However, Di Fiore says he thinks he was successfully convicted because he used his own name at the polling stations and readily admitted what he'd done. "If I had signed the registration form 'John Doe' I would never have been convicted of anything."

He continued, "It is really hard to prosecute a voter fraud case because it's hard to prove someone did it unless they openly confess."

No complaint about alleged stolen voter cards

Hawn, who's announced he's not running in 2015 in his Edmonton Centre riding, hasn't explained why he didn't complain to Elections Canada about the phone call he says he received concerning illegally-obtained voting information cards.

But he did go to to Elections Canada with allegations about voters using non-residential addresses on the voters list the week before the 2006 election. He went on to win the riding by more than 3,000 votes.

Elections Canada investigated his complaint and reported it found close to 100 voters who did use non-residential addresses. However, in a press release issued in January 2007, the agency said it was satisfied those voters either lived in the riding, or had not "wilfully or knowingly registered to vote in the wrong electoral district".

Elections Canada said it also found none had voted twice, and there was no link between them.

Vitor Marciano was Hawn's campaign manager during the 2006 election. Although he believes a number of voters deliberately used non-residential addresses,  he doesn't believe voter fraud is widespread.

But, he said in an interview, "Do you have voter fraud of one per cent in some tight ridings? Maybe. Are ridings occasionally decided by a fraction of one percent? Yes."

In 2011 the riding of Etobicoke Centre was won by 26 votes. The northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming was won by just 18 votes.

Marciano, speaking from Edmonton, said, "Heaven forbid we come to the day when the decision about who's prime minister and who's not prime minister is decided by one or two seats, and we have five or six ridings across the country that are being disputed because the margin was 30 or 40 ballots."

Corrections

  • This story has been edited from an earlier version that incorrectly stated Conservative MP Laurie Hawn would testify Thursday at a committee studying the government's proposed Fair Elections Act legislation. In fact, Hawn attended the committee hearing Thursday but said he would testify next week.
    Mar 27, 2014 11:23 AM ET