Blackout broken: Election results available early online

While Newfoundlanders watched their federal election results start to roll in at 8:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, residents of British Columbia and the Yukon weren't supposed to be able to see those numbers until their own local polls closed three hours later.

While Newfoundlanders watched their federal election results start to roll in at 8:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, residents of British Columbia and the Yukon weren't supposed to be able to see those numbers until their own local polls closed three hours later.

But Canadians with an internet connection were among those who could find their way around that particular election rule Tuesday night.

Several blogs and social networking sites that are available across the country posted comments and information about results in Eastern Canada while voters in western regions were still heading to the polls.

And satellite TV beamed Atlantic Canada's results to the West well before the law permits. 

Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act  bans the transmission of election results from any electoral district where polls have closed to districts where the polls are still open.

That means traditional audio and video broadcasts, websites and blogs aren't allowed to report election results nationwide until all the polls are closed. The blackout was put in place to try to prevent the posted results in the eastern time zones from influencing voters in the West.

According to Susan Ormiston, who was tracking the election online for CBC News, social networking sites across the country were buzzing with election news long before the last polls closed in British Columbia and the Yukon at 7 p.m. local time, 10 p.m. ET.

Online sites like Twitter and Facebook had posted comments about election results in Atlantic Canada while polls were still open in other parts of the country. 

"What's happened is Section 329 of the Elections Act, which did include all internet transmissions, has been busted as we expected by these social networking groups that go across the country," Ormiston told CBC News.

Curious Canadians could easily avoid broadcast bans on election results by heading to social networking sites — which are available across the country — where they can read the information posted in other regions, or join the discussion with comments or information of their own.

Blackout also broken by broadcasters

The problems weren't just online.

Some television viewers were able to see results from other regions despite the blackout. In Yellowknife, Peter Buell told CBC News that he was able to watch the results from Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada on a local cable channel even though polls in the Northwest Territories were still open.

"I have been watching the voting since 7 p.m. for Atlantic Canada by way of a free-to-air dish. Is what I have been doing illegal?" asked Timothy Albertson of Thunder Bay, Ont.. 

In Brandon, Man., Jack Whitaker said he watched results from provinces where polls were closed while polls were still open in Manitoba via a local cable channel.

"If this is happening across Canada, it could impact voting further west," Whitaker said.

In Toronto, some Bell ExpressVu satellite TV customers said they could watch the Atlantic results before casting their ballots.

Court ruling supports blackout on results

The rule limiting online discussion of election results has already been challenged once. In March 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a legal ban on reporting early vote results in regions of the country where the polls are still open.

The regulation was challenged by British Columbia software designer Paul Bryan, who said modern communications technology, such as the internet, rendered it obsolete.

Bryan argued that the ban violates the Charter of Rights' guarantee of freedom of expression and another section of the charter that protects freedom of political association.

In a 5-4 decision, the top court ruled the section of the Canada Elections Act that prohibits the publication of voting results until all federal polls close on election night does not violate the Charter of Rights.

The court wrote that the ban is a "reasonable limit" on the charter because it maintains "informational equality" among voters and contributes to "the fairness and reputation of the electoral system as a whole."

With files from The Canadian Press