Elections Canada has budgeted up to $1 million to help First Nations cope with new voter-identification rules that could make it harder for indigenous people to cast ballots in this year’s federal election. The agency is hiring the Assembly of First Nations to warn its 634 bands and others about the tougher rules, which are doing away with “vouching,” commonly used on reserves where relatively few voters have identity cards that show their home address as required. Previous federal elections have allowed a second person to vouch for the identity of a voter who lacks documents that contain an address. But last year’s controversial Fair Elections Act essentially ended the practice after the Harper government said it was open to abuse.
The act substitutes a new procedure — called “attestation” — which makes it more difficult and complicated for a second voter to declare that a prospective voter resides in a riding.
An estimated 120,000 Canadians relied on vouching in the 2011 federal election. Critics of the Fair Elections Act warned the elimination of vouching would particularly hurt First Nations communities, where ID with addresses is hard to obtain, and where election-turnout rates are already low, about 16 percentage points below the national rate.