Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

A sharp contrast of election turnout from two neighboring countries

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Originally published on on Wed, 10/15/2008 – 11:04am

The Canadians set an all-time low in last night’s federal election with only 59.1 percent of eligible Canadians coming out to vote.

But the United States hasn’t had a figure that HIGH since 1968, when 60.8% of eligible people voted. The last three elections had these percentages: 56.7% (2004), 51.3% (2000), and 49.1% (1996).

There were a few reasons for the bad Canadian election turnout: it was the third federal election since 2004 (normal election cycles are five years), less-than-stellar leadership from the two major parties (current Conservative PM Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion), and a general apathy having had back-to-back minority governments (and now a third one).

The last four Canadian federal elections (dating back to 2000) have all been under 65%, the first time it fell below 65% since 1896.

There are reasons why Canadian turnout is traditionally higher: shorter election periods (about 35 days vs. 2 years), and fewer restrictions on who can and who can’t vote. After all, Canada doesn’t have the legacy of Jim Crow laws or poll taxes.

But one other major reason why Canadian turnout was likely lower was new stringent proof-of-identity requirements implemented by the Stephen Harper government. This is one of many areas where Harper has tried to emulate George W. Bush.

This is why having a non-partisan groups such as Elections Canada can help improve the U.S. numbers, and create an environment where it would be assumed that you have the right to vote.

Year after year, we see Republican Party tricks to hold down the vote. Threatening deportation to Hispanics. Sending out flyers with incorrect information in poor neighborhoods. Attacking voter registration sheets from ACORN and other groups.

And why do Republicans get away with it? Because no one will step up and making voting a right.

Then we have “magical” problems of substandard numbers of voting machines in Democratic precincts. And long lines in poor areas and Democratic friendly cities such as St. Louis in 2000 and Cleveland in 2004.

In Canada, Elections Canada “mandates that employers allow employees to vacate their work station and scoot out to vote if their schedule doesn’t leave them three consecutive hours to do so before or after work.” The rule was part of sweeping changes made to the Canada Elections Act in the early 1990s.

The primary philosophical difference is that Republicans fear centralized control: “leave it up to the states.” As we saw in Florida in 2000, where legitimate people were moved off the rolls, state-level control can be a disaster.

We are all Americans, and we shouldn’t have 50 sets of rules for who can and who can’t vote. Traditionally, all Canadians, with the exception of the head of Elections Canada and the Governor General meeting the age requirement, were eligible to vote.

If we had that standard, imagine what our democracy could look like. There is no reason, Republicans be damned, why we don’t hit at least 60% this year.


Written by democracysoup

October 15, 2008 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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