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

Spent $4.45 million during 2011 election campaign on voter information and ads that all missed key messages to encourage voter turnout – turnout dropped to lowest level ever of 48.2%


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

OTTAWA –  Today, Democracy Watch released the letter (Word document) it has sent to Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer Gregory Essensa calling on him to, in contrast to the 2011 provincial election, spend his planned $4.8 million in advertising and communications with voters effectively by producing new advertising that gives voters actual reasons to vote.

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%.

Democracy Watch also announced that it is planning a court challenge of Elections Ontario’s continuing negligence in failing to properly use its legal powers to educate voters about their voting rights (set out in sections 114.1 and 114.2 of the Ontario Elections Act).  Democracy Watch wants Elections Ontario to correct its provincial election website, advertising and voter information cards to let Ontario voters know they have the legal right under section 53 of the Elections Act to decline their ballot (ie. vote “none of the above”) and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot.

“Elections Ontario claims to put the needs of voters first, but continues to fail to respond to media coverage and calls to inform voters with its website, advertising and voter information mailings of the real reasons to vote, and 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 is planning a court challenge to try to stop 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 addition to the incomplete information on its website, in 2011 Elections Ontario’s newspaper advertisements and voter information cards mailed to voters also fail to mention the right to decline your ballot, even though both have lots of blank space in which this information could have been provided.

On the “Mission” page of Elections Ontario’s website, it states that among the “values that will be the foundation” of everything Elections Ontario does is “that the democratic rights of all electors must be protected.”  However, Elections Ontario has done nothing in the past to inform all electors in Ontario of their democratic right to decline their ballot.

Elections Ontario failed to mention in its May 7th news release (PDF) about the launch of the provincial election that Ontario voters have this right.  On the “How To Vote” page of its so-called “We Make Voting Easy” website, Elections Ontario does not mention the right to decline the ballot, and the sub-pages on that page entitled “Voting in Person” etc. all fail to inform voters of this right.  The right is also not mentioned on the “More Days, More Ways” page or on the “About Elections” page.

Elections Ontario’s materials for teachers, and “Voting in Ontario” information pamphlet for first time voters also fail to mention the right to decline the ballot, and likely its  “Voting Rules toolkits” also fail to include this information.  As a result, Elections Ontario is misleading young voters about their voting rights.

As well, Elections Ontario does not include the number of declined ballots in its “Summary of Valid Ballots Cast” (PDF) for the past four provincial elections (although it has a vaguely titled “Unregistered Political Interests” row in that table).

Section 53 of Ontario’s Election Act states as follows:

“Declined ballot
53.  An elector who has received a ballot and returns it to the deputy returning officer declining to vote, forfeits the right to vote and the deputy returning officer shall immediately write the word “declined” upon the back of the ballot and preserve it to be returned to the returning officer and shall cause an entry to be made in the poll record that the elector declined to vote.
R.S.O. 1990, c. E.6, s. 53.”

Elections Ontario has failed to inform voters for the past 40 years of their right to decline their ballot in the printed material sent to voters, and print, billboard, TV and radio advertisements about voting.  Democracy Watch was consulted by Elections Ontario in the spring of 2011 about its planned voter information and advertising campaign, and suggested very strongly that the information and the ads must mention the right to decline your ballot.  As well, it strongly suggested that if the ads hope to encourage higher voter turnout, they must also contain the following key messages:

  • “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 (include the election laws for municipal elections in each jurisdiction).

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

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting Systems Campaign