My responses to the Province’s local elections and councillor accountability engagement

Friday, July 22nd, 2022 | 2021 Election, Calgary, Politics

Today is the deadline for Albertans to submit their input as the provincial government develops updates to the Municipal Government Act and the Local Authorities Election Act on the topics of candidate eligibility, code of conduct rules, privacy of voter information, and the scope of third-party advertising rules.

Below is the text of my submission. I share it here in hopes we can have a discussion about the merits of each idea and compare it against the changes that eventually do get made.

4. What changes should be made to candidate eligibility?

There should be a condition that includes exclusion based on letters of reprimand from a municipality – for example, if disciplined as an employee of the municipality. At the very least it should be a requirement for these files to be made public.

8. What other sanctions for code of conduct violations would you suggest?

Codes of conduct are disciplinary tools for issues that would be most appropriate for electors to decide. Instead of tweaking or standardizing codes of conduct elections should return to being held more frequently to put the consequences of the behaviour of elected officials in the hands of electors. 

10. Please provide your reasoning as to why you agree … that Candidates, their scrutineers, or their official agent should have the opportunity to object to an individual who has shown up to vote.

During the 2021 Calgary municipal election, a list of electors was not used at polling locations. As a result, there was no process to confirm a voter was an eligible elector. The City attempted to mute the impact of this decision by having electors sign an affidavit stating they were eligible to vote in the election and at that poll. However, there was no process for campaigns or the returning officer to review these affidavits or to request they be reviewed. The mandated objection process, flawed though it obviously is, is currently the only process available to check the eligibility of electors. 

14. Do you have any other comments you wish to provide?

If there is one section I recommend changing in the LAEA that would have the greatest impact it is amending 98(1)(b) to mandate an automatic recount if first and section place candidates are separated by less than 0.5% of the total votes cast. This single change will make up for many of the additional shortcomings of the Act that only apply in a close election. Currently, the only way for a recount to occur is if a campaign provides proof of malfeasance in very short order. (This favours well-funded or experienced candidates.) In addition, when an electronic tabulator is used, this section puts the returning officer in a conflict of interest because they are the individual who recommended using tabulator machines to their council AND they are the only individual who can authorize a recount that could prove their earlier recommendation to be catastrophic if the machine is found to have miscounted.

The second recommendation I have is covered in your earlier question. LAEA section 84(3) should be deleted to allow judicial recounts regardless of how ballots are counted. The current law means that after 100+ years of every ballot being viewed by a human being in every Alberta election (federal, provincial and municipal) we just held our first election in Calgary where not a single ballot was even able to viewed by a single human. There are two ways to provide confidence in an electoral system transparency and security. Under the current law, when using electronic ballot counting systems, we now rely entirely on the latter with no transparency available by law.

My third recommendation is also somewhat covered by an earlier question and that is to ensure each polling place as an elector list to compare against. If this is not desirable for some reason that I am not aware of, then a process whereby the eligibility of electors who cast ballots can be reviewed must be mandated. Neither of these existed in the 2021 Calgary municipal election and there were reports that individuals voted more than once or voted in the wrong polling place/jurisdiction. This must be addressed to preserve the sanctity of Alberta democracy.

Finally, there are several other changes I’d recommend related to the use of electronic tabulating machines, however, the rules governing their use are currently outsourced by the LAEA to local election bylaws. They could be ensconced in the LAEA to create more consistency or certainty of fairness. If this were desired I’d recommend the following items be considered: ensure ballots are counted by more than one machine, ensure uncorrected machine-rejected ballots are examined following the close of polls by returning officers and scrutineers instead of ad hoc throughout the day, and publish the sensitivity threshold of optical scanners (and don’t be afraid to lower their certainty to increase the number of rejected ballots examined by returning officers and scurtineers).

Thank you very much for conducting this community engagement effort. My hope is you will see value in my recommendations so that future candidates will not face the same legal shortcomings I experienced, and voters will have even more confidence in their electoral system.