Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Vote often?

Drawing of a ballot boxI spoke this week with a Sydney resident who lives in a household of three registered voters that received five PINs for online or telephone voting in the municipal election.

One was for a brother who, she said, has not lived in the house for 18 months, and one was a duplicate — her son received two PINs.

She said she contacted the municipality, which reached out to confirm how many voters actually lived at the address but told her they had no control over the list of voters, as it came from the province.

I asked both Elections Nova Scotia (ENS) and CBRM Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell Ryan (who is also the municipal returning officer) how a voter could receive multiple PINs and how often it happens.

Naomi Shelton of ENS told me in an email that the voters’ list — or rather, the Nova Scotia Registry of Electors — is “up to date as of July 15, 2020.” This means it includes any changes in elector information “shared with Elections Nova Scotia” by that date.

So, who shares such information with ENS?

Changes to the registry are made in two ways. One, if the individual elector requests a change to their information, or if a change is identified during an electoral event such as a provincial election or by-election. We also have data sharing agreements federally and municipally, so we receive updates after federal and municipal elections.

Please note, if an elector does not inform the province of their change of address or update their information on the federal national register of electors with Elections Canada, then their address information will not change on the provincial register.

In the case I described, Shelton said:

…any address issues identified during the municipal elections will be reported back to us by the municipality so we can make appropriate updates when the list is returned to us at the end of the election.

Campbell-Ryan reiterated (also in an email) that the CBRM, like most municipalities in the province, uses the provincial voters’ list rather than enumerating its own voters. She continued:

When CBRM received the List from the Province, there was a screening process used to identify possible duplicates, however some were not picked up during that process. I cannot explain how or why the Province captures a duplicate name at the same address, especially with their access to such data bases as Motor Vehicles, Health Cards, Vital Statistics, etc.

I asked Shelton a follow-up question about how duplicates occur, and she said in most cases it’s because:

…the information provided by the citizen to each public sector body is slightly different. Each public sector body (i.e. Elections Canada or municipalities) that shares data with us for the provincial list may have a different version of the elector’s information. This can often include different spellings of a name, or an unofficial name vs an official name (i.e. David vs Dave).

She said ENS runs a “deduplification process” each month, applying “different business rules” and also conducts manual reviews (she didn’t say how often) but that some duplicates are not caught because when it is not clear that there are two different electors, ENS keeps both names on the list because:

It is better for an elector to get two voter information cards than for an elector to be left of the list.

I asked if this calculation still holds when an elector is getting not a voter information card, but a PIN for electronic or telephone voting, and Shelton (who was very patient with my queries) responded:

That’s a question for the municipality. It is the municipality that decides what type of voting they are going to support and would thus assign PINs if necessary. Elections Nova Scotia is not responsible for administering municipal elections. We simply provide the list of electors.

So the municipality obviously made the calculation that it was worth the risk of sending out multiple PINs. Campbell-Ryan pointed out that voting more than one PIN “is an offense under the Municipal Elections Act,” adding:

If it is brought to our attention, we have the ability to search the IP address for the computer or the telephone number that was used to cast the vote.

(I’m not sure what the point of this would be — presumably there is nothing to prevent multiple people from, quite legally, using the same computer or phone to vote. Couldn’t a person vote from a public computer — at the library, say?)

As for how widespread the problem is, Campbell-Ryan said:

Given the screening process used, we do not believe it is widespread. However, we would appreciate a call if someone receives duplicate letters – or if there is a letter addressed to someone who does not live at their address or is deceased – so that we can correct the information and send back to Elections Nova Scotia following the election.

I asked if it were a problem in the 2016 municipal election in CBRM (during which electronic voting was an option) and Campbell-Ryan said:

It is probably an issue for elections at every level of government, however if someone receives two voter cards in the mail for the provincial or federal elections, we seldom hear about it because there are no PINs attached to those cards since the Province and Feds do not hold electronic elections.

I didn’t ask — but should have — if this is one of the reasons why the provinces and feds DON’T hold electronic elections, because it seems like a pretty strong argument against them.

On the other hand, in-person voting is not optimal during a pandemic and my preferred alternative method — mail-in ballots, which would at least allow for recounts and wouldn’t be affected by power outages — would be open to the same potential duplication we’re seeing with some PINs.

In the end, though, the real problem with municipal elections, no matter the system used, is not that some people vote twice, it’s that almost half of us don’t vote at all.

The woman I spoke with, for example, lives in District 6 where, in 2016, of 7,283 registered electors only 3,624 — 50% — voted. Across the wider CBRM the figure was almost the same — 47% of voters didn’t bother.

So by all means ensure your voters’ list is as accurate as possible but recognize that the most accurate list in the Western Hemisphere isn’t going to solve our voter participation problem.



Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce logoWhy does the business community, as represented by our Chamber of Commerce (whose members, in passing, seem to be exhibiting symptoms of that other great local epidemic — late onset port-development expertise), get special access to mayoral candidates?

Why does the chamber get to hold a debate for “members-only” with a hand-picked audience? (So carefully picked, Mayor Cecil Clarke was able to attend in person, something he’d refused to do at the Ripple FX TV debate precisely because of the audience. Did I miss something? Did Dr. Tam announce that businesspeople are immune to the virus?)

Why do chamber members get to ask a bunch of questions related to their very particular interests? Is it simply to make it clear to all candidates from the get-go who really matters in our society? Sure, everyone else was permitted to watch the livestream, but if a non-member had a question, good luck with that.

I’m not sure whether this custom (which extends to mayors making “big” announcements at chamber luncheons and our premier literally touring the province’s chambers when he wants to take the pulse of the province) is predicated on the notion that the business community is a reasonable stand-in for the broader municipality or that the business community is just inherently more important than the broader municipality, but neither is true and I think the practice is deeply undemocratic.


Mea culpa

I sent out questions to all the mayor and council candidates this fall and have been pretty pleased with the response rate (although the radio silence from District 8 is perplexing, to say the least).

My biggest fear was that someone would take the time to respond and I would lose the answers in the shuffle and so, of course, that’s precisely what happened with Matthew Boyd’s answers. He’s a candidate in District 10 (one of two, the other being incumbent Darren Bruckschwaiger) and he answered my questions a full week before I published the answers.

I’ve apologized and added his responses but I said I’d mention it in Fast & Curious and check me out — I’m as good as my word.

Speaking of District 10, it’s leading the way in terms of voter turnout right now. With the results from the first two days (Wednesday and Thursday) of voting in, more people have cast ballots in that race than in any other.

To be fair, most districts have seen roughly similar turnout (I’ve decided you can still call it “turnout” even if you only have to walk to your telephone or computer to vote), the exception being District 3 which is decidedly behind. Theories, anyone?

CBRM voting totals 8 October 2020

Source: CBRM (Click to enlarge)