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Democracy Watch calls on Elections Ontario to inform voters of all their rights effectively, including right to decline their ballot in 2018 election – plans court challenge

Elections Ontario spent $4.83 million during 2014 election campaign on voter information and ads that all missed key messages to encourage voter turnout – turnout was second lowest level ever at 51.3%

(NOTE: Since Democracy Watch sent its letter yesterday to Elections Ontario, it has thankfully added information about the right to decline your ballot to the “Voting” page, “Glossary” page, and “How to Vote” page of its website. See a screenshot here of the “How to Vote” page as it was two days ago to compare it with the page linked in the previous sentence, and you will see that it has been updated to add a section entitled “Different ways to mark your ballot” that mentions the right to decline your ballot. However, there are still more than a dozen documents about voting and voter rights on Elections Ontario’s website that fail to mention the right to decline your ballot)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

OTTAWA –  Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa calling on him to, in contrast to the 2011 and 2014 provincial election, spend the likely more than $4.5 million in advertising and communications with voters about the 2018 election effectively by producing new advertising that gives voters actual reasons to vote, and informs them that they have the right to decline their ballot (in other words, to vote “none of the above”).

Despite Elections Ontario’s $4.5 million in advertising spending in 2011, voter turnout in the 2011 Ontario election was a record low 48.2% of eligible voters, the first time in history that turnout dropped below 50%.  And despite Elections Ontario’s more than $4.8 million in ad spending in 2014, turnout in the 2014 election was the second-lowest ever at 51.3%.  The 2007 turnout was only slightly better at 52.1%.

In the letter, Democracy Watch requests that Elections Ontario make changes to its website, election advertising, information package for new voters, voter information cards, and teacher and youth education documents so that they all include clear information that ensures Ontario voters know they have the legal right under section 53 of Ontario’s Election Act to decline their ballot (i.e. vote “none of the above”) and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot.  This right has existed in the law since 1975.

As the letter details, Elections Ontario currently mentions the right to decline your ballot briefly only once on its website, in only one of more than a dozen documents about voting, totaling more than 200 pages, that can be downloaded from the site.  Also detailed in the letter is how, in its 2011 and 2014 election advertising, website pages, new voter information package, voter information card, Elections Ontario failed to mention the right to decline your ballot.

If Elections Ontario fails to fulfill its legal duties properly to educate voters about all their voting rights (as set out in in subsection 114.1(2) and section 114.2 of the Election Act), Democracy Watch will apply to court for an order mandating Elections Ontario to make the changes to its website, ads and information documents.

Democracy Watch sent a similar letter to Mr. Essensa in 2011 (after it was consulted by Elections Ontario concerning voter education), and again in 2014, but he has failed to make changes to include information about the right to decline your ballot on Elections Ontario’s website, and in its ads and public education documents, for the past seven years.

“Elections Ontario claims to uphold the democratic rights of voters but continues to fail to inform voters with its website, advertising and voter information that they have the legal right to vote none of the above by declining their ballot,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “Democracy Watch is calling on Elections Ontario to correct its website, advertising and voter information, and if it fails to do so will challenge in court Elections Ontario’s negligent and undemocratic failure to inform voters of their full voting rights.”

“Some voters may not support any party that has a candidate in their riding or may not support any of the parties’ platforms, and they have the right to be informed by Elections Ontario that they have the right to vote for ‘none of the above’ by declining their ballot,” said Conacher.

In its letter, Democracy Watch also urges Elections Ontario, if it hopes to encourage higher voter turnout with its election advertising, to include the following key messages on its website, and in its ads and any information sent to voters (including the voter registration card):

  • “You never know when your vote may count” — with examples from past provincial elections such as 1985 and 1990, and from specific ridings in various elections, all  of which show clearly that local and provincial election results cannot be predicted in advance, and;
  • “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” — making it clear that politicians don’t really care about you if you don’t vote because non-voters do not help them get elected, or defeated.

The federal government, and every provincial and territorial government, should add the right to vote “none of the above” and to give a reason to their election laws (including the election laws for municipal elections in each jurisdiction).

In addition, the Ontario parties must make the following changes if they want to increase voter turnout up to the past average levels of 65-70% that occurred from the 1934 provincial election through to the 2003 election:

  • pass an honesty-in-politics law that gives voters an easy, low-cost way to file complaints about broken promises and false statements to the Integrity Commissioner, and gives the Commissioner the power to penalize misleaders (and requires MPPs who switch parties in-between elections for unjustifiable reasons to resign and run in a by-election);
  • change the voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote results in each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature), and;
  • strengthen provincial political ethics, political finance, lobbying, open government, and whistleblower protection laws.

These changes would give voters many more reasons to vote because they would know that voting for a specific party would mean their vote would count and the party’s promises would be kept, and they would be more assured of democratic good government overall no matter which party won.

“More and more voters know from their experience of the past few decades of elections that they are not going to get what they vote for, and are likely to get dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government no matter who they vote for, and as a result no one should be surprised to see voter turnout in Ontario at such a low level,” said Conacher.

These problems exist in all the provinces and territories across Canada.  All of these changes should be made by the federal and provincial and territorial governments, and for their municipalities, before mandatory voting is even considered because forcing voters to vote creates false legitimacy for political parties and politicians (and mandatory voting must never be implemented unless “none of the above” is one of the options on the ballot).  As well, Internet voting should not even be considered currently because it dangerously undermines the integrity of the voting system.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting System Campaign