Jo Ramsay is a literary assistant at P.S. Literary Agency and the editorial director of Shrapnel Magazine, with her writing published in Maclean’s and This Magazine.
After seeing Kevin Vuong still labelled as the Liberal candidate for Spadina-Fort York in Toronto on my ballot, I was confused: He had been disavowed by the Liberal Party because of undisclosed sexual assault allegations just two days before election day on Sept. 20.
I, alongside other frustrated voters, speculated online whether votes cast for candidates such as Mr. Vuong would be allocated to their respective party, which would then pick a new candidate. In reality, the candidate that gets the votes is elected, and MPs maintain the ability to change their party affiliation – as we saw with former Green Party MP Jenica Atwin when she crossed the floor to sit with the Liberals. This is incredibly confusing in a culture that prioritizes party allegiance, and where Canadian voters don’t generally acquaint themselves with their local MPs.
This leaves those who voted for disavowed candidates upset because their vote didn’t contribute to the party they wanted to support. Other voters are also upset because the ballots that went to disavowed candidates could have been directed toward the party they support instead.
Mr. Vuong’s case was not isolated. He was among a handful of candidates across parties who remained on the ballot with their original affiliation after being disavowed by their parties or voluntarily ceasing campaigning after candidate registration closed. There is no infrastructure in place for Elections Canada to have informed voters at the polls that these candidates were either running with a different party affiliation, running as independents, or simply not running at all.
I learned this when I called Elections Canada after returning home from voting and the staff informed me that there was nothing that could be done to redress the discrepancy, as in-person ballots were required to be the same as mail-in ballots. According to the Canada Elections Act, there was nothing I could do to inform other voters in line either: It’s prohibited to post, use a loudspeaker, or display campaign literature or other material that could be taken as support or opposition to a particular party or candidate in the polling room, the building, the entire property and even the parking lot. And rightly so to prevent voter intimidation and ensure everyone feels safe at polling stations.
With Mr. Vuong’s own Twitter bio still proclaiming him the Liberal candidate after the polls closed, voters who consulted social media and the ballot for information had reason to trust that it was accurate. But that information was wrong, and there was no co-ordinated effort to counter it. This proved critical: Mr. Vuong won his seat.
This is a non-partisan problem that everyone should advocate to resolve.
An effective solution to inform voters of late-stage changes in an electoral race could be to place a large, accessible notice board outside of every polling station, displaying updates such as disavowed candidates or other ballot inaccuracies in real-time. Another initiative could be to provide clear and publicly accessible methods for groups of private citizens to advocate or trigger a local by-election in situations similar to Spadina-Fort York where there is mass dissatisfaction with the elected candidate. Both of these proposed changes would serve to maintain faith in our electoral system and quell community frustrations in the event ballots cannot be updated.
To take such actions as a private citizen, however, is complicated. Elections Canada explained to me that changes to the Canada Elections Act need to be directed to one’s local MP – in my case, Mr. Vuong himself. This feels like a dead end as I doubt he would be enthusiastic about me challenging the system that put him in a position of power.
I implore those feeling disenfranchised and even betrayed by this hole in our electoral system to channel your frustrations into action. If contacting your local MP to appeal to them isn’t a viable option, you can also contact Dominic LeBlanc, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Independent media cannot carry the burden of informing voters alone. In a time when democratic integrity and honest elections are under increasing skepticism, it’s crucial for the government to take responsibility and do everything in its power to ensure transparency and keep voters updated.
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