Canada. The true north strong and free. And wide. Six time zones wide.
Our nation’s girth has long presented a challenge for Elections Canada. In a country where half the population is compacted into two eastern provinces, it is possible that an election’s outcome might already be determined by the time the polls close in Ontario.
To keep our country-mates in the west motivated, Elections Canada passed a law in 1938 prohibiting national news outlets from broadcasting news that might influence those who had yet to cast a ballot. Now, thanks to social media, we live in an age where every individual can essentially act as a “broadcaster”, putting Elections Canada in the position of needing to uphold what is essentially an unenforceable law. Pity them!
In our last election just two short years ago, they made an example of Vancouver blogger Paul Bryan. Poor Bryan was charged for posting results from Atlantic Canada online before polls closed in western Canada. He was fined $1,000 but fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing the act was unconstitutional for infringing on his freedom of expression. The case garnered the attention of Canadian media outlets, which later joined Bryan in the challenge.
He lost. Which I guess is justifiable, if you believe that judges are in place to rule against the laws as written, not rewrite the laws.
But if we believe that it’s important to protect all citizenry from bias on election day, then something must change. Here are a few choices, presented in increasing order of difficulty:
- Revise the law: New definitions need to be established for what constitutes the “broadcasting” of election news. If I have but 10 people following my on twitter, and am unable to contain my excitement and emit a tweet, should I be treated the same as a television broadcaster who might have 1 million people tuned in?
- Revise the voting system: Open and close the polls at the exact same time, all the way across the country. Polls open in Halifax at 11am and close at 7pm. In BC, they are open from 8am and close at 4pm. Better yet, let us vote from our desks. If I can pay bills online, I should be able to vote online too.
- Revise the electoral system. A move to proportional representation eliminates the issue. Everybody’s vote counts, even if you are a conservative living amongst the left.
There’s been a lot of conjecture about the significance of social media on the outcome of this election. Now, the election might have an impact on social media. Be careful what you tweet!
The Internet and social media have broken several legal concepts and professional boundaries across many facets of society. Your blog post rises some good point about their potential impact on voting psychology and behaviour.
I’m not sure the problem is that an individual could qualify as a broadcaster, but rather, that they’re transmitting local poling results across electoral boundaries. I’m sure if people hear a major victory is coming for one party, they may say “What’s the point in voting?” and stay home which would bias results.
I’d propose a simpler solution: option 4. We would just keep the cat in the bag until the end of the day when the last Canadian’s vote. Then all at once, polling stations can start reporting their results. This way, any early news about election results would have no credence, and little impact.
But on the other hand, perhaps option 5 is for Elections Canada to order a social media monitoring suite, then to track individuals in violation of these requirements, and mail out fines. After all, the vote of no confidence was widely considered a waste of taxpayers’ money, and perhaps we taxpayers can use this law and social media to retrieve our lost tax money.
Thanks for the comments. I do think you are right about Option #4. I am not sure what the benefit is to release any results until all polls are closed. One thing i remember about the last Toronto Municipal election was that enough votes were counted in 8 minutes after the polls were shut to determine a winner – let’s hope that EC can work as efficiently!
As far as Option #5 – if you see an RFP for this next election, let us know! ;-}