About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

They Came for the Ballot Box!

The situation seems more or less chilled out regarding the "Special Ballot" and the "Incident" that took place in the University Centre on Wednesday. No one was arrested, all votes will be counted, and all parties seem to agree that the situation had its faults even amidst the positives (ie: Students voting en masse). Seriously, you can't even get 700 undergrads out for the AGM of their own student government.
Into this situation sauntered the elusive Michael Sona. By all accounts, he made a move as if to reach for the ballot box and take it while arguing with on site Elections Canada workers about the validity of the poll. I would say this speaks to Sona's character, but I don't know what that is. There was some yelling, some accusations, undoubtedly some pouting, blame games about partisan bric-à-brac strewn about the U.C. and candidate surrogates outside ready to accost the undecided. A pretty grim picture of something that according to most accounts didn't happen. Let's play a round of Mythbusters. 
First, was there partisan material for the Liberals, NDP and the Green Party near or round the area where the Special Ballot was being held? Sort of. Many witnesses have noted that partisan material, including Liberal pamphlets, were found within uncomfortable proximity to the polling station, but when they were pointed out to the Elections Canada people in attendance, the material was quickly removed. As to campaigners handing out that material to people outside the U.C., witnesses again say that the closest were a pair of Liberals campaigning near the Library, several yards away from the U.C.
How can they have an advanced poll at the U of G and no one from Elections Canada knows about? Simple, it wasn't an advanced poll. It was a Special Ballot. All the ballots cast were on route to Ottawa where they would be sorted per riding, because not all the students voting at the U.C. were voting for the riding of Guelph. Think of it as a mass mail-in ballot. As mentioned by Elections Canada on Friday, the rules governing these Special Ballots can be fast and loose, but they are legitimate. And its worth pointing out that this is the third time that the University of Guelph has held such a Special Ballot for its students. What made this time an outrage? (You'll have to ask Michael Sona. If you can get him on the phone.)
Can Michael Sona get in trouble for making a grab for the ballot box? Possibly. From Part 11 of the Canadian Elections Act: "No person shall, inside or outside Canada, [...] (b) wilfully interfere with, or attempt to interfere with, an elector when marking a ballot or special ballot, or otherwise attempt to obtain any information as to the candidate for whom any elector is about to vote or has voted" and "(g) wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election." If you think that sounds pretty bad, it is. But as noted by the Mercury, the police were not called. Nothing was seized and nobody was arrested.
How does this make the Burke campaign look? Already insular beyond the point of rational thought, the Burke campaign, and by proxy the Conservative Party of Canada, looks even more secretive and Draconian, two things that as every day goes by, they don't need any more help in appearing to be. And just to review, Burke couldn't make it to campus for a debate, but cat's paw can crash the Special Ballot and make a fuss about improper voting. Frankly, if the student vote was so important to Burke, he should have cancelled his "personal booking" and come to campus to face his fellow candidates and the audience.
In the end though, Elections Canada made a wise decision (even the Conservative head office thought so) in allowing the ballots be counted. The cost, however, is that no one else across Canada will be allowed to hold or participate in such events. That's shame, and while the rules that govern elections must be inscrutable and above reproach, the end result of this incident is that Conservatives are a) afraid of students actually coming through in this election, and b) they'll do anything to make sure that their odds of winning a majority aren't contravened by little things like democracy.
For the students in the U.C. on Wednesday, there's two things they'll take away from this incident: 1) The Conservatives are afraid of their vote, and 2) The Tories seem truly not to care about winning their vote, and will outright disenfranchise them if they can. Hopefully the former won't cancel out the latter, and students are more compelled now than ever to vote. Whatever, and wherever that may be.

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