Thoughts about the voting process in Ontario

I’ve never understood people who choose not to vote.


I should probably expand on that statement, by saying I have never understood people who choose not to vote in Canada.


I have always been interested in politics and the political process. While I recognize that not everyone is as invested in the outcome or the operation of democracy as I am, it is not unreasonable to ask that once in a while you take a little time out of your day to make a piece of paper and put it into a box.


In August 2013 I served as a poll clerk during the byelection in London West in Ontario Canada. This was not my first time observing the process all day. During the previous election I served as a scrutineer for a political party. Essentially a scrutineer is a volunteer who watches people vote, objects to any perceived injustices or irregularities, and reports back to the party on which of their supporters have voted and so they can focus the get out to vote push on people who have claimed to support the candidate, but haven’t yet voted.


Its a long, boring day and I swore I would never do it again without being paid. So when this opportunity came along I jumped at it.


The process of getting the job is probably the simplest job application I will ever encounter. I was voting a head of time at Elections Ontario HQ and asked if they needed people for election day. I filled out a 1 page form with my name, phone number, and address. The next day they called to tell me where my training would be and where I would be assigned on election day (or E-Day as partisans sometimes call it).


The training for this job is pretty straightforward. Mostly they just introduce you to what a ballot looks like, give you a booklet to read, and play some instructional videos. It takes maybe 2 hours.


Anyone who has voted in Canada will recognize the setup of the poll. There are two people seated at a table. There are a couple of chairs nearby for the scrutineers. On the table is a ballot box and some papers featuring the names and addresses of those are can vote at this poll. When people come to vote they are directed to which table they should vote at. They show one of us their identification. The Deputy Returning Officer hands the voter a ballot and I cross their name off the list.


The actual E-Day I worked was pretty slow. It was held around the time of a long weekend in August when most of the students are out of town and many people have vacation plans. Never-the-less there are 23 days of early voting so I see no reason why people can’t find the time to stop in and vote in the previous three weeks.


When I was a scrutineer one of my co-workers grumbled that it seemed rude that a poll worker was eating at his table. This is actual unavoidable. In order for the voter to cast a ballot both the Deputy Returning Officer and the Poll Clerk must be present. If someone takes a break for lunch voting has to stop.


Overall I came away with the realization that voting in Ontario is easy. There were ocassionally people who showed up with a piece of ID in a married name when the voters list shows their unmarried name, but this is easily corrected by filling out a form. There were rarely lines longer than 3 people, and most people were in and everyone was in and out in less then 10 minutes.


This is why I say I do not understand why people do not vote in Canada. Its easy, with very little hassle. The identification requirements are not onerous, and the legal framework we live under is created and changed by the people we elect.


I recognize that this is not the case everywhere. In some jurisdictions it take hours to vote. In some parts of the United States in the previous election there were reports of lines of up to 6 hours in undeserved polling locations.


In Canada we are a well documented people, thanks in part to our social programs. While not everyone has a drivers license, almost everyone has some form of photo identification, even if it is just a provincial health card, and every province except Quebec has created a photocard for non-drivers given for a token fee. In some areas of the United States many people lack the kind of identification documents required by the elections officials, which as far as I understand is probably an intentionally narrow list to prevent people from voting. According to a fascinating article by Shane Landrum there are many people in the United States who lack even a birth certificate because their birth was never properly registered.


All this is a topic for another post, comparing voting requirements in Canada to those in the United States. Never-the-less I understand why some people in the United States and other countries may choose not a vote, but I do not understand why some people do not vote in Canada.