Mail in ballot, provincial election 2020 (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

Voter suppression: Just say no

Canada and the United States are two very different countries, but we share many similarities as well. Canada, on the whole, probably leans a little more left than the U.S., and also is less obviously religious, at least in terms of politics.

It is sometimes true over the years, that when a trend begins in the United States, economic, cultural etc., that Canada will begin to show that trend a few years later.

But there is one trend picking up speed in the United States that I hope will never come to Canada, and that is suppressing the vote to the point where democracy itself can be called into question.

The Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on the 2020 General Election in B.C. is now available. Statistics provided in the report say that an unprecedented 596,287 voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, a massive increase from the 6,517 voters who voted by mail in 2017. Of the 724,279 registered voters who requested a vote-by-mail package, 91.1% returned their voting package by the close of voting, or voted at another voting opportunity instead.

Voting in person was markedly different from past elections as well. Elections BC encouraged voters to vote at advance voting, to reduce crowds and lineups at voting places and help ensure physical distancing. For the first time, more voters voted before election day than on election day. Voter turnout by voting opportunity broke down as follows:

• 35.4% voted at advance voting

• 31.4% voted by mail

• 28.8% voted at their assigned voting place on General Voting Day

• 4.4% voted at other absentee voting opportunities

In total, 1,898,553 voters voted in the election – the second highest number of voters in B.C.’s electoral history, representing 53.9% of registered voters. In 2017, 1,986,374 voters voted, representing 61.2% of registered voters.

This, in my opinion is the sign of a relatively healthy democracy, although I’d like to see participation numbers higher. But it does seem that everyone who wanted to vote was able to with very little impeding them.

And there has been no screaming about fraudulent voting by mail, or other chicanery.

Let us have a look at the beacon of democracy to the south.

In Texas, the Republican majority is trying to pass a bill that will make it far more difficult for voters to access the polls, and they are focusing specifically on Harris County, near Houston which is growing more and more diverse each year. While Texas is a solid red state, Harris County is growing ever more purple, even leaning to blue.

The bill will put a ban on drive through voting, which Harris County offered in 2020. Early voting hours will be lessened, including a ban on a few 24 hour voting days which made it possible for everyone to find a time to vote. The bill will ban the state from in any way trying to facilitate mail in voting, which means no unsolicited mail-in ballots. Voters will have to request them, and provide new, stricter ID requirements.

In addition, Texas will be conducting monthly reviews of the state’s voter rolls in order to purge ‘non-citizens’. And the state is encouraging ‘Poll Watchers’, from both parties, they say, by giving them free movement within a polling place.

Over in Georgia, it is now illegal to give food or water to anyone waiting to vote. Many people in urban areas, which coincidentally tend to lean left, face long lines waiting to vote. Some stand in line for hours. It is now illegal to give them water.

Voter restriction measures are also underway in Arizona, Michigan and Florida. Florida has also restricted the ability to supply snacks or water, and made it harder to vote by mail.

Signs of a functioning democracy? I think not. If the only way you can imagine yourself and your party remaining in power is to prevent people from voting, democracy is is in danger.

Let us hope this trend never reaches the northern border. And if it does, let’s just tell them the border is closed.

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