Friday, October 1, 2010

Alberta soldiers excluded from voting

The Calgary Sun reported today that many Canadian soldiers from Alberta who are stationed overseas (such as in Afghanistan) will not be able to vote in this month’s municipal elections throughout the province.

Now, those who know me know that I am no fan of the military, but I am somewhat of an extremist when it comes to including everybody in the democratic process. It is a travesty that these citizens are being left out of the process because of an inability of the various levels of government and the Canadian military to find a way to enable the soldiers to vote.

The problem stems from these factors: Typical mail delivery time for overseas military is apparently at least 5 weeks. There are just 4 weeks from nomination day until election day in our municipal elections. The Provincial legislation governing municipal elections only allows for traditional voting station balloting and “Special Ballots” which must be physical paper (not electronic), but which can be mailed or otherwise transported from outside the province.

In discussions on Twitter today, we talked about what I consider to be three very doable possibilities:
  1. Provide “Special Ballots” (that’s the legal term under Alberta Provincial election regulations) that allow for candidate names to be written in by the voter. A supply of these fill-in-the-name ballots could be made available to the remote military operations (with various authentication measures) and, with the cooperation of the military, could be filled out by the voters and rush-delivered back to Canada for inclusion in the election day counting.
  2. Change the provincial legislation to make a special exception for overseas military operations to allow for electronic voting. This would require collaboration (and legal wrangling) between the Province and the military, as well as imposing a blanket policy to include this voting method for all Alberta municipalities (who currently have some leeway in defining their own paper balloting procedures).
  3. Provision for establishing remote special polling stations at military bases overseas. From a municipal elections offices stand-point, this would not require much variation from existing procedures for setting up special polling stations at hospitals and such. The big difference would be in allowing for remote reporting of results, to be verified by the later delivery of the actual ballots. This, like the previous option, would require some coordination with military officials.

So, 3 very viable options to address this failure of democracy. None of which can feasibly (or legally, without unprecedented rapid intervention by probably at least 2 levels of our governments) be done in time for this election.

Here’s what I want Albertans to do: Call, and write to, your MLA telling them you want them to ensure that Alberta soldiers who are stationed overseas are never again excluded from the democratic process at any level of our governments. This afternoon I telephoned my MLA’s office, and then sent a more detailed email to him (and Cc’d the four in-Legislature party leaders).

Someone on Twitter asked about trying to lobby the federal Conservative government to improve on the 5+ weeks delivery time so that the soldiers would be able to just use the mail-in ballots that other citizens can use. That would be great, but I don’t see it as realistic. It would require a radical shift in thinking on the part of the feds toward actually supporting our troops instead of just spouting patriotic platitudes.


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