Privacy concerns raised by Marc Mayrand over election changes

Canada's top election official is raising concerns about privacy as the government's proposed changes to election laws include letting parties have lists of who cast ballots.

C-23 proposes providing lists to parties detailing who voted

Marc Mayrand, Canada's top election official, is raising concerns about privacy as the government's proposed changes to election laws include letting parties have lists of who cast ballots. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's top election official is raising concerns about privacy, pointing out that the government's proposed changes to election laws include letting parties have lists of who cast ballots.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand appeared in front of MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee Thursday, bringing with him a 13-page document listing the amendments he'd like to see made.

The document points to two measures that could be privacy concerns:

  • Giving parties a copy of all statements of voters who have cast ballots.
  • Letting candidates' representatives examine voters' identification.

In a briefing with reporters, Elections Canada officials said parties and candidates can have the information now, but not in a way that would let them collect it in a systemic, broad-based way.

The statements of voters, known as bingo cards, are already available to candidates who have scrutineers at each polling station. The bingo cards are sheets of paper that see volunteers check off the names of those who cast ballots. They're meant to be used to encourage voters to turn up — known as get-out-the-vote or GOTV.

But the information on who votes isn't collected methodically right now, the officials said. Not every party has scrutineers at every location, and often they rely on runners to pick up the sheets periodically rather than having one person at each polling station all day.

'Should not be shared with parties'

"Collecting fundamental personal information in this way about whether or not people have voted goes beyond the operational purpose related to voting on polling day," Elections Canada says in the document about its proposed amendments.

"Information on who has voted should not be shared with parties further than it already is."

Nearly 40 per cent of Canadians didn't cast a ballot in 2011. If voter turnout was similar in 2015, for example, it would mean the federal parties would know who was among that 40 per cent who didn't vote, and could track whether those voters cast ballots in the next federal election.

Another concern is that federal parties aren't subject to privacy laws, meaning there would be little protection or recourse for voters whose information is compromised.

The officials said the parties should have to follow basic, common principles of privacy if such a measure becomes law.

They also pointed out that, beyond the get-out-the-vote function, there's no obvious use for that information except to use for fundraising. The officials said it isn't clear to them why the parties would need that information or how they would safeguard it.

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, says the parties already have the information.

'I don't know what the big deal is'

"At every polling location in an election, candidates have representatives who stand there and strike off the list of names of every single person who comes up and votes, and parties have the records into perpetuity of who cast a ballot," Poilievre said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"When people walk up and they say, I'm Bob Smith, that scrutineer makes a note that Bob Smith showed up to vote... I don't know what the big deal is," he said.

Mayrand's proposed amendments also include clarifying a provision that would let candidates' representatives examine any piece of ID presented by a voter.

The provision doesn't say what happens if the voter refuses to show their ID to the candidates' representatives.

"This authority may upset or delay individuals trying to register and/or vote," Elections Canada says in the document.

"An amendment should be added to these provisions to clarify that no elector will be prevented from registering or voting as a result of not wanting to show his or her ID to a candidate's representative."