A participant in the bruising American battle over voting rights warns that Canada is treading on dangerous ground with its proposed electoral reforms. One of the lawyers who helped strike down the voter ID law in Pennsylvania last month says legislation tabled by the Harper government will inevitably wind up depriving some people of their voting rights. That’s why any change to voting requirements should be made with the strictest care, in the spirit of achieving more accurate election results, said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Pennsylvania. That warning comes from a country where voting rights are an especially emotional subject, for obvious historical reasons. Americans know the issue well. And the impact of ID rules has been studied extensively, re-emerging in recent years as a hotly debated partisan issue. Multiple academic studies point to an impact on turnout, especially among specific demographic groups: the young, the poor, and minorities.
The measured statistical effect has ranged from a couple of percentage points to more than a dozen, depending on what the study’s measuring, what state it’s looking at and the state’s ID requirement.
The new rules envisioned in Ottawa are not nearly as cumbersome as the ones struck down in Pennsylvania, where the right to a ballot hinged on a document from the state Department of Transportation, and the ability to get that document required ID some voters simply couldn’t obtain.
The Canadian bill, on the other hand, would still allow 39 types of ID. With one medicare card, or a bank statement and a phone bill, someone could still vote. The legislation would simply get rid of the practice where one voter can vouch for another one’s identity.