11 September 2011

On missing the point

Mark Watton has been leading the charge against sections of the province’s election laws that allow people to vote when there is no election.

On the face of it, the idea is bizarre.

You’d think it is obviously bizarre.

And yet a political science professor at Grenfell in Corner Brook managed to miss the point entirely in a recent interview with The Western Star:

Meanwhile, Mario Levesque, a political science professor at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, agrees it is a necessity which adds to the democratic process. However, he also says there are adjustments required to address issues around voting prior to the nomination of candidates.

“That is kind of an irritant, but is difficult to address,” the professor said. “It is pretty difficult for all political parties to have candidates in all the ridings two months before the actual election, and sometimes it is three weeks before an election date before a party has a candidate in that riding.”

For starters, Levesque confuses the idea of having allowance for people to vote who might be away from the district or the province on polling day with the idea that they could vote when there is no election.

His comment about parties having candidates in place also isn’t an issue.  Unless a candidate meets the conditions set out in the provincial Elections Act, he or she simply isn’t a candidate. And those are the rules that actually don’t put candidates in place until after the election writ is issued. 

Even then, the candidates are not finally – legally – in place until a week or so before voting day.

Seems ludicrous, then to put it mildly, that people are given ballots to vote two months or so before a likely election date.

This is not really the kind of stuff that should tax people’s faculties. In Levesque’s case, he obviously understands how things work, he just mixes them up.

He also skips over the fairly obvious point that the balloting system affects both voters and those seeking office alike.  The best illustration of that recently would be the case of John Baird.  He originally planned to run for the Liberals.  Then Baird walked away from the Liberal Party  and plans to run as an unaffiliated candidate.

That means that under the law as it stands right now, all those people who want to vote for John Baird can’t. And anybody in a situation like that who had cast a vote for the party because the system didn’t let them vote any other way would be – in effect – disenfranchised if they cast a ballot a couple of months before voting day and before their man switched parties.

Then there’s the scenario that Watton spelled out in the Western Star article.  What happens if an election in a particular district comes down to a difference in vote totals that is smaller than the number of special ballots cast upwards of two months earlier.  That is, people voted one way based on assumptions at the time but then would have voted another way later on.

You see there is a reason why voting takes place on a single day and in the case of advance polls, not much before that one day.  Absentee ballots are handled differently but the process often involves mailing the ballot back.  As long as it is postmarked no later than the actual voting day, the vote can be legally counted even if the mail system stakes a week or more to get the ballot to the voting officials.

Special balloting In Newfoundland and Labrador actually ends well in advance of polling day and not long after the last day for nominating candidates under the election law.  In other words, the system in this province pushes absentees away from voting for individual candidates and forces them to make choices before everyone else and before they actually have a chance to weigh fully what choices they actually have.

Absentee ballots aren’t a bad idea.  In fact, they are a very good idea since they enfranchise people.

The problem comes with the peculiar way the law is written in Newfoundland and Labrador.  That could be fixed with a few simple changes.  Those changes would be easy to make, just as easy in fact as the original changes were made that created the mess in the first place.

The problem is that the politicians aren’t interested in changing the system. 

And why should they?

It favours the people who already have the jobs.

- srbp -