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‘An honour system’: Elections BC, Elections Canada can’t confirm voters' citizenship

Last Updated Nov 9, 2018 at 11:14 am PST

Summary

Many British Columbians have started sending in their referendum ballots, but a loophole may allow non-citizens to vote

One person registered and got a ballot despite not being eligible; Elections BC says it relies on an 'honour' system

The problem goes beyond B.C.; it turns out Elections Canada has the same issue

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With just weeks to go before referendum ballots are due, Elections BC is trusting you to tell the truth about your citizenship status as it has no way of verifying the information.

People who are not citizens but have a Social Insurance Number, a driver’s licence, or a Care Card could register to vote and Elections BC would not be able to confirm their eligibility. Anyone registered could vote not only on this year’s referendum but on upcoming elections as well.

So what is stopping people from abusing the system? According to Elections BC, honesty.

“The system is an honour system for confirming that you are in fact a citizen,” Rebecca Penz with Elections BC said. “We don’t have the ability to use records such as health records to validate citizenship. We don’t have that authority to do that.”

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The vulnerability of the system came to light when a NEWS 1130 listener received a referendum ballot, despite them not being a citizen. The person thought they were eligible to vote because they were a Permanent Resident, so they registered to vote by using their SIN. They received a ballot and successfully managed to register on the voting list.

We asked why the person’s citizenship status was not checked before a ballot was sent. Elections BC said they “…don’t have the ability to do that.”

“The original onus was on this person to not get on to the voters list,” Penz said.

But it turns out B.C. is not alone. Elections Canada does not have the ability to confirm a person’s citizenship either.

“While we clearly communicate the citizenship requirement to vote, we depend on individuals to accurately indicate their Canadian citizenship, so we recognize the process is not perfect,” read an email from Elections Canada to NEWS 1130.

Penz said voters are asked to declare they are indeed a Canadian citizen when registering, noting there are significant penalties for voting if you are not eligible to do so.

“It’s possible that people who are ineligible to vote would be able to cast a vote and it would not be caught,” Penz added.

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According to Penz, the Elections Act does not require voters to show documentary evidence of citizenship, age, or residential status.

“At the same time, there is no one piece of identification that is universally held by all Canadians to prove citizenship,” read the email from Elections Canada. “Therefore, requiring proof of citizenship when registering could disenfranchise many eligible electors.”

When asked what Elections BC is doing to mitigate the issue, Penz said the Act does allow for a voter to object another voter’s registration.

Elections BC is also hoping that the proposed amendment to Bill C-76 will be approved, which, among other things, would allow the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide Elections Canada information about permanent residents and foreign nationals — something that has not been possible.

“We’re always looking at ways to ensure the integrity of the voters list and to modernize the voting systems. So we’ll continue to look at what ways will improve communication with the public, as well as working with Elections Canada to ensure that they’re getting the most accurate information that they can.”

Penz said she doesn’t have any specific numbers on whether or not this has been an issue, but noted Elections BC does not think the numbers are significant.

“It’s very uncommon for non-citizens to vote. Most people are aware of who is eligible to vote and their responsibilities.”