August Bearspaw Beat - Voters' list crushed
Earlier in July, the majority on Council voted to eliminate the voters’ list as some councillors felt it was too expensive. I didn’t realize one could put a price on democracy, however, it seems that has happened in Rocky View.
As you well know, I am not about frivolous spending but I did run on transparency and integrity. Our strategic plan also speaks to creating trust and doing the right thing. What creates greater public trust than making changes to improve the fairness of our elections?
Council’s reasons for eliminating the voters’ list ranged from voting controversies in the provincial election to the fact that just over 30% of Rocky View residents voted in the last municipal election. The voters’ list wasn’t the problem in the provincial election, it was weaknesses in voter identification requirements. The province let people vote with a voter’s card and no identification, leaving them vulnerable to voting abuses. With regards to low voter turnout, what does that have to do with having a
voters’ list? If anything, creating a voters’ list raises awareness – a positive for voter turnout.
In our last municipal election one candidate won by four votes while another candidate brought forward clear evidence of voter fraud. You would think that these facts would clearly demonstrate the merits of a voters’ list. Voters’ lists aren’t perfect, but studies have proven they are effective especially in reducing voter fraud and other voting irregularities.
The federally commissioned Neufeld report, released in 2014, found that
voting irregularities typically involved those not on the voters’ list. As Councillor Kissel stated, the RCMP did not press charges due to a lack of evidence, but because she
won by too many votes. That and the courts were backlogged - neither reason instills much confidence in the system. Furthermore, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces without mandatory municipal voters’ lists. Question is, why not?
I found my colleagues reasoning about cost somewhat bewildering. We recently approved over $400,000 to completely redraft the County Plan - a document designed to last 15 – 20 years but is barely six years old. Council also recently directed Administration to undertake many projects not in the approved work plans.
Some councillors seemed overwhelmed by the work involved with a voters’ list. While the provincial legislation doesn’t lay out in detail what needs to be done, there are mechanisms in place to help a municipality. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Elections Alberta made it clear they would facilitate and guide Rocky View through the process. This Council had the opportunity to be a leader in improving
public trust and fairness for municipal elections. Sadly, it chose not to do so.