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Democracy Watch plans court challenge of Elections Ontario’s failure to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot

News Release

Democracy Watch plans court challenge of Elections Ontario’s failure to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot

Information and ads during election campaign missing key messages to encourage voter turnout

Thursday, September 22, 2011

OTTAWA –  Today, Democracy Watch announced that it is exploring a court challenge of Elections Ontario’s continuing negligence in failing to correct its provincial election website, advertising and voter information cards to let Ontario voters know they have the legal right to decline their ballot.

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Ontario to produce new advertising with key messages to encourage voters to turn out at the polls.

On the main pages of its “We Make Voting Easy” website, Elections Ontario does not mention that Ontario voters have the right under section 53 of the Elections Act to decline their ballot and have it counted separately from a vote for a candidate or a spoiled ballot.  The sub-pages on the website, including the page entitled “Voting in Person”, also fail to inform voters of this right.

Elections Ontario’s civics education program “Voting Rules Fact Sheet” is likely also incorrect, and as a result is misleading young voters on their voting rights.

In addition to the incomplete information on its website, 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.

As a result, Elections Canada is 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).

Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa’s message on the Elections Ontario website says “We are on a mission to make voting easy, and that means putting the needs of the elector first.”

“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 that they have the legal right to decline their ballot,” said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch.  “As a result, Democracy Watch is exploring a court challenge against Elections Ontario to try to stop its negligent and undemocratic failure to inform voters of their full voting rights.”  (To see Democracy Watch’s August 24, 2011 news release, click here, and to see some of the related media coverage, click here and click here)

“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.

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 20 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 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.

“As it has in past elections, Elections Ontario is again spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad campaign that has the wrong messages, and again negligently failing to inform voters of their right to decline their ballot, so no one should expect voter turnout to increase significantly in the October provincial election,” said Conacher.

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, Board member of Democracy Watch

Tel: (613) 241-5179

Democracy Watch’s Ontario Election 2011 (archive website) page