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Elections Canada defends error-plagued voters' list

OTTAWA - Canada's chief electoral officer defended the voter registration system Friday, even though many people eligible to cast ballots on Monday have received two voter information cards.

The same problem led to a three-percentage-point misstatement of the voter turnout in 2000.

"I can only affirm that [the problem] is quite limited," Jean-Pierre Kingsley said at a news conference outlining voting procedures for the June 28 election.

"A voter information card is just that, a voter information card. This card does not mean that you are entitled to vote more than once."

Duplication of names on the list meant Elections Canada thought there were 957,205 more eligible voters leading into the 2000 election than was actually the case.

Using the wrong number, the agency estimated that 61.2 per cent of voters had cast ballots, a sharp drop from the 67 per cent who showed up in 1997. In fact, Kingsley now says, the number was closer to 64.1 per cent. He says the agency will continue to use 61.2 per cent as the official turnout number because that's what was tabled in the House of Commons as part of the official report on the election results.

Instead of sending out teams of enumerators across the country to register eligible voters just before each general election, Elections Canada now updates a permanent database of voters using information supplied by:

  • Canada Revenue Agency
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
  • Provincial and territorial vital statistics registries.
  • Provincial and territorial motor vehicle agencies.
  • Elections commissions in provinces that also maintain voters' lists.
Reporters at the news conference cited the case of one neighbourhood in Gatineau, Que., where five married women each received two cards in advance of the election, one giving their married name and one using their maiden name.

Under Quebec law, drivers' licences identify all women by their maiden names, though other provincial government departments and federal income tax collectors accept their married names.

Kingsley said the Quebec information in Elections Canada's database is verified by checking it against the province's chief elections official's list, and Quebec's information is recognized as being "among the best in the country."

Canada's chief electoral officer also said he is ready to deal with a flood of people showing up who are not registered to vote. That usually happens because they have moved from a different riding since the last election and somehow their change of address has not made it onto the voters' registry yet.

"We are preparing for the worst-case scenario based on our experience in the year 2000 and based on the number of electors who have not changed their data," he said. That includes positioning staff so that they can move quickly between one polling station and another to deal with an onslaught of unregistered voters.

Kingsley added that the "worst-case scenario" is actually the "best-case scenario" in that situation because it means more people will be exercising their right to vote, a key priority for Elections Canada.

Given polls showing the Liberals and Conservatives are in a dead heat leading up to Monday's vote, Kingsley was asked whether he expected judicial recounts in more ridings this time out. "I have no way of knowing that," he said.

But it could take up to two weeks to know the final number of seats each party will take in Parliament if judicial recounts end up reversing initial results, he said. That's because it could take a week to collect all the ballot boxes from remote locations. Then recounts must be requested within four days, and it could take up to four more days for a judge in the riding to begin counting all the disputing ballots.

Eight recounts were requested after results were validated from the 2000 election, involving three ridings in Quebec, one in Ontario and four in Saskatchewan. Three of the Saskatchewan candidates later withdrew their requests, and results did not change after the recounts in the other five ridings.

Written by CBC News Online staff



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