First published in the National Post on October 5, 2011.
As a result of a recent relocation, I wasn’t on the voters list in my riding for the upcoming Ontario provincial election. So, when I showed up to vote in the advance polls, I had to show my driver’s licence and a piece of mail — my phone bill, as it so happens — to prove identity, age and residency. No problem. But something neither of these documents did was verify my citizenship.
Citizenship is, in theory, a fundamental criterion in voting eligibility. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair in not considering the possibility that citizenship verification takes place on some sort of psychic, metaphysical level by the attending poll clerk, or, perhaps, merely a behavioural profile on whether the would-be voter exudes the essence of Canadian-ness. But I doubt it. I’m more apt to wager on a profoundly simpler idea: Elections Ontario, much like its national counterpart, doesn’t verify citizenship of electors.
A couple of years ago, (thankfully) former Toronto mayor David Miller backed an unpopular proposal to allow non-Canadians residing in Toronto to vote in municipal elections. That would have been a first for Canada. In the last federal election, Michael Ignatieff’s wife was unable to cast a ballot to support her husband due to her citizenship status. (Little did Mrs. Zsohar know that as long as she could drive or had a health card, no one would have stopped her from giving her husband a much-needed sympathy vote.)
What would happen if a non-citizen, armed with phone bill and driver’s licence, went to vote and, by coincidence, the polling clerk happened to know for a fact that they weren’t a Canadian citizen? Could they be prevented from casting a ballot? A phone call to Elections Ontario to pose that very question had a confused customer service agent ask me, “What do you mean? You need to be a citizen to vote.” How enlightening.
The non-statement from Elections Ontario aside, it’s well established that foreign citizens have voted in Canadian elections. I know of at least one American who voted in our last election, and a French citizen who had to call Elections Canada to explain that she was ineligible to receive the voter cards they were sending her. Tales of foreign citizens voting in our elections have even been reported in the media, typically as curiosities.
Much has been written about the historical pattern of politicians in Chicago wooing the graveyard vote, but those indiscretions are minute compared to the systemic indifference to non-Canadians being able to vote in Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections.
There are 1.5 million non-citizen residents of Canada over the age of 18. There is little to stop any or all of them from influencing our democracy. Forget “foreign workers.” A better use of time during the current campaign would have been figuring out how to update our election laws to rule out any interference by foreign voters.