Ottawa-based advocacy group Democracy Watch announced it will launch a private prosecution against the Conservative Party for its role in the 2011 robocalls scandal, which misled some Canadians to go to wrong polling stations in key ridings. The group decided to take action after government lawyers refused to press charges. At time of writing, Democracy Watch is focusing legal efforts on one individual in at Conservative Party Headquarters who booked calls that gave voters across the country incorrect polling station locations, even after Elections Canada warned all political parties not to engage in such activities during the 2011 campaign.
The last unresolved legal appeal of the 2011 robocalls scandal is at an end after the Federal Court of Appeal tossed out a bid to overturn the federal election results from Guelph, Ont. The judge’s ruling states that a looming federal vote in October now makes it moot to further challenge the 2011 election outcome — notwithstanding a raft of as-yet unsolved Election Act offences. Kornelis Klevering, who ran for the Marijuana Party in Guelph, was seeking to overturn the Liberal victory in the riding on the grounds that thousands of eligible electors may have been misdirected by fraudulent, automated phone calls purporting to come from Elections Canada. Klevering, however, launched his legal challenge of the Guelph election results too late under the rules, and a succession of courts rejected his suit on the grounds there was no evidence the fraudulent calls affected the actual election outcome.
For many Americans, the idea of technology that can block automated telephone calls sounds like a solution to all those annoying “robocalls” and interrupted family dinners. But to the nation’s pollsters and campaign professionals, many of whom are gearing up for the 2016 election cycle, a federal government proposal circulated Wednesday to encourage phone companies to embrace the technology feels like an existential threat. As a result, they say, Americans might soon know much less about what they think about everything from which candidates are gaining or losing ground to what issues voters care about most. And political campaigns might be forced to abandon tools they currently use to reach large numbers of voters in a short period of time.
Canada: Chief electoral officer hopes public remains vigilant over political dirty tricks | Calgary Herald
The upcoming federal election will see tougher rules around the use of robocalls, but Canada’s chief electoral officer hopes greater public awareness will help stamp out improper use of automated calls and other political dirty tricks. Fraudulent robocalls to direct voters to the wrong polling station in the 2011 election in Guelph helped lead to new rules requiring political parties and service providers to register with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) before contacting voters. Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said in an interview that Elections Canada will be watching closely for abuse of any robocalls on election day, set for Oct. 19 under the federal fixed election date law. But he said there are also other potential issues to watch for, including false Facebook and Twitter accounts and the risk of someone hacking into party or Elections Canada computer systems.
Three days after conceding the loss of his U.S. Senate seat, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich may have hit on just the trick to make him the most popular lame duck ever. On Nov. 20, the soon-to-be ex-senator introduced a bill that would allow voters to block robocalls from certain political organizations by adding super PACs and dark money groups (politically active non-profits that do not disclose donors) to the “Do Not Call Registry” maintained by theFederal Trade Commission. The “Do Not Disturb Act of 2014” comes a little late for this year’s voters, including many in Begich’s state. But an analysis of data — including filings due at the Federal Elections Commission at midnight — using Sunlight’s Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker suggests that such a measure could put a serious crimp in the nation’s gross political product. Outside expenditure filings show that outside groups spent nearly $8 million dialing voters across the nation last year. Because of vagaries in how these calls are described in filings to the FEC, it’s hard to say exactly how many of them were the types Begich would ban: automated “robocalls” or the “push-polls” (faux surveys that attempt to create favorable or — more typically — unfavorable impressions of candidates by the way questions are phrased). Still, we found more than $1 million worth of calls that were explicitly identified as “automated” or “robocalls.”
Michael Sona, the former Conservative staffer convicted in the 2011 robocalls scandal, was sentenced Wednesday to nine months in jail for what the judge called “an affront to the electoral process.” Justice Gary Hearn called his task “a difficult and troublesome sentencing.” The Crown had wanted Sona, 26, to spend at least a year and a half in custody for his role in a scheme to misdirect voters on the morning of the 2011 federal election. Sona hung his head and typed on a BlackBerry, his family members beside him in tears, as Hearn delivered his decision. Sona will also spend 12 months on probation.
A Chicago election official has been fired in the aftermath of a contentious election that has resulted in a criminal probe of disruptive robocalls and complaints about “irregularities” in handling ballots in the state treasurer’s race. A division supervisor for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has been fired, said Jim Allen, a board spokesman. Allen would only say the person fired was a division supervisor and not “a top manager.” He declined to say why the person was fired, saying it was a personnel issue. But the firing comes amid complaints from the campaign of Republican candidate for state treasurer Tom Cross. A lawyer for the campaign wrote a letter to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners about “numerous irregularities identified by election monitors in the handling of ballots” for the Nov. 4 election.
Former Conservative party staffer Michael Sona has been convicted of trying to prevent voters from casting ballots during the 2011 federal election. Sona, 25, was the only person charged in what has come to be known as the robocalls scandal, in which automated calls were set up to target voters in Guelph — most of them Liberal supporters — with misleading instructions on where to vote. After a long recounting of the trial’s testimony, Superior Court Justice Gary Hearn said he was convinced “well beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sona was guilty. Sona hung his head and family members fought back tears as Hearn explained his decision.
The federal Conservative Party says it stands vindicated by Canada’s top elections watchdog after a three-year probe failed to produce evidence of a deliberate or widespread conspiracy to suppress votes through the use of automated or live robocalls in May 2011. However opposition critics say Yves Côté’s conclusion does not clear the governing party and only highlights the need for more investigative powers for the Commissioner of Canada Elections. Côté released a report Thursday after an exhaustive investigation into “deceptive communications,” or robocalls, that occurred across Canada in the last federal election and directed voters to the wrong poll station. The commissioner said that beyond the riding of Guelph — where a separate investigation is ongoing and one Conservative staffer, Michael Sona, has been charged — the complaints were “thinly scattered” across the country and no pattern or deliberate attempt to mislead voters could be determined.
Editorials: The Fair Elections Act doesn’t address the real problems with voting | Adam Scheletzky/The Globe and Mail
The Conservative government’s proposed “Fair Elections Act” aims to “protect the fairness of federal elections.” Yet, rather than effectively address issues like the 2011 robocall fraud, the Act attempts to tackle supposed individual voter fraud by prohibiting the use of “Voter Information Cards” (VICs) and ending the process of “vouching.” Presumably, since approximately 120,000 Canadians utilized vouching and 36-73 per cent of youth, aboriginal peoples and seniors used VICs in a 900,000-person pilot program during the last federal election, there is compelling evidence to justify making it harder for so many Canadians to vote. Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre points to the Neufeld Report for justification that the process of vouching needs to end. Yet this independent report does not present one iota of evidence that there was one case of actual fraud by an individual voter. Nor does it recommend that vouching be eliminated.
An Indiana state law banning a variety of automated telephone calls was given new life as a federal appeals court concluded that the law was not preempted by federal law. In a decision released late on Thursday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said a lower court judge erred in concluding that the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act supplanted Indiana’s law regulating the calls. It directed the lower court to consider whether the Indiana law violates callers’ free speech rights under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Automated calling often prompts complaints because they are considered annoying or raise privacy concerns. According to the 7th Circuit, the Federal Trade Commission fields more than 200,000 complaints a month about automated marketing, or “autodialer,” calls.
Maryland: Fourth Circuit dismisses political consultant’s challenge of illegal Election Day robocall | Baltimore Sun
A federal court on Monday rejected political consultant Julius Henson’s appeal of a $1 million civil judgment against him for an illegal Election Day robocall. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision that Henson, his company, Universal Elections Inc., and an employee violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act with a November 2010 automated campaign message to more than 112,000 Democratic voters in Maryland. In the case brought by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the state argued that the call was designed to suppress black votes. The message failed to include information on the call’s sponsor. Henson was employed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Martin O’Malley for re-election.
Maryland’s second-highest court has affirmed the verdict in the election fraud trial of a campaign consultant involving Election Day automated calls that prosecutors said were aimed at keeping Black voters from the polls. Julius Henson worked for former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s campaign during his 2010 rematch with Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Last year, a Baltimore jury convicted him of conspiring to send robocalls without an authority line that explained who sent the message. He appealed, arguing that the verdict was inconsistent and the application of the election law was constitutionally vague. The Court of Special Appeals disagreed with both questions in a ruling filed last week. It also found that the jury instruction was not erroneous and a sentence barring participation in politics during probation was legal. “This case presents us with a sad tale,” wrote Judge Albert J. Matricciani, for a three-judge panel that ruled on the case.
Canada: Robocalls: Widespread but ‘thinly scattered’ vote suppression didn’t affect election, judge rules | Toronto Star
There was a widespread but “thinly scattered” vote suppression effort across Canada during the 2011 federal election that ultimately did not affect the outcome nor warrant annulling results, a federal court judge has ruled. Justice Richard Mosely, in a 100-page ruling released Thursday, found that “misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country” including six ridings at the heart of a lawsuit brought by the Council of Canadians against the Conservative Party of Canada. He said the purpose of the calls “was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their voting preference in response to earlier voter identification calls.” But Mosely said he was unable to conclude the vote suppression efforts had a major impact on the credibility of the vote.
The prosecutors who decided to proceed with a charge against Conservative campaign worker Michael Sona in the robocall case must believe they have a shot at conviction, which suggests Elections Canada has evidence stronger than anything it has disclosed in publicly available court documents, says veteran elections lawyer Jack Siegel. “The standard to get it through a prosecutor is reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction,” said Siegel, an active Liberal, in an interview Wednesday. “Of course, all the evidence they have is not going to be on the public record.” Sona, who was director of communications on the unsuccessful campaign of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke, was charged Tuesday under the Elections Act for seeking to “prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election,” for actions alleged to have taken place between April 30 and May 2, 2011.
After 22 months of investigation, Elections Canada has charged a former Conservative campaign staffer over misleading robocalls sent to voters in Guelph, Ont. in the 2011 election. A single charge was laid in Guelph against Michael Sona, who served as director of communications to losing Conservative candidate Marty Burke. Elections Canada confirmed that Sona was charged Tuesday under a section of the Elections Act that makes it illegal to “wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election.” The charge is the first to be laid in the politically charged robocalls affair that has hovered over the Conservative Party.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wants Parliament to overhaul Canada’s elections law to prevent deceptive telephone calls by adding stiffer penalties and giving new powers to investigators. In a recommendation aimed directly at the calls received in Guelph, Ont., on the 2011 election day, Mayrand says Parliament should close a loophole in the Criminal Code and make it illegal to impersonate an Elections Canada official. He advises maximum penalties on conviction of violators of $250,000 in fines and five years in jail. In a report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, Mayrand suggests that political parties develop “codes of conduct” aimed at preventing the kind of misleading phone calls reported by more than 1,400 Canadians in 247 ridings in the last election. The report, entitled “Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors,” also recommends that Elections Canada investigators be given a new power to apply to a judge for an order compelling witnesses to provide information during an investigation.
On Jan. 23, city council will decide whether Edmonton should begin using Internet voting next October in our municipal election. While city clerk Alayne Sinclair and others think Internet voting is secure, in reality it is not. Hackers have gained access to secure systems at the Pentagon, CIA and Canadian government organizations. If these groups with large budgets for network security can be penetrated, what makes a private firm think it can provide secure online voting? As a computer programmer and former network administrator, I embrace technology as much as I embrace democracy. While there are many technologies that benefit our lives, electronic voting is not one of them.
Florida: Human error and call company’s hands-off approach led to faulty Election Day robocalls | Tampa Bay Times
After robocalls went out on Election Day telling Pinellas County residents that “tomorrow” was the last day to vote, blame for the national embarrassment ricocheted from Largo to Santa Monica, Calif. At first, Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark pointed at CallFire Inc., the California-based broadcast messaging company she paid to remind 38,700 voters to return their mail ballots. CallFire CEO Dinesh Ravishanker shot back, blaming the debacle on the elections office and “human error.” But images of the CallFire program provided by Clark’s office, as well as interviews with election and county officials, now suggest the botched calls were caused by a combination of public servants’ blunders and CallFire’s hands-off approach.
Hundreds and potentially thousand of voters in Florida’s Pinellas County received automatic calls from the local supervisor of elections mistakenly informing them that they had until 7 p.m. tomorrow to cast their votes. Of course, they actually have until 7 p.m. this evening. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the calls went out between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday because of a phone system glitch.
The Federal Court is hearing preliminary motions today in the Council of Canadians’ bid to have the federal election results overturned in a handful of tightly contested ridings. The council has asked the court to review the May 2011 election results in seven ridings where Conservative MPs narrowly won their seats. The council alleges misleading or harassing phone calls in those ridings kept some people from voting and may have affected the outcomes. But the Conservative party claims the group is more concerned with attacking them and raising money than getting to the bottom of the so-called robocalls affair.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s campaign is warning voters that his opponents might be engaged in “dirty tricks” after some voters said they’ve received robocalls claiming they don’t have to vote Tuesday if they signed the recall petition. The Democratic Party of Milwaukee County also said it is receiving reports of such robocalls and accused supporters of Gov. Scott Walker of placing them. “These tactics aren’t just shady and troubling. They’re un-American and downright criminal,” said Sachin Chheda, Milwaukee County Democratic Party chairman.
If criminal convictions were not enough, add $1 million in civil penalties to the list of reasons Maryland politicos may think twice about ordering another election-night robo-call that could be viewed as trying to suppress voter turnout. A federal judge on Tuesday sided with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and ordered that a consultant to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) should pay for each of 112,000 automated phone calls that failed to identify Ehrlich’s campaign as the one that paid for the messages. The calls were placed to homes of tens of thousands of African American Democrats in Prince George’s County and Baltimore on Election Day 2010. They told listeners to “relax” and to not worry about going to the polls, because the incumbent, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and President Obama had already been “successful” in the day’s voting.