Friday, May 24, 2013

RoboFraud Ruling

Late yesterday, the Federal Court handed down its ruling on the 2011 Robocall Voter Suppression tactics that played out in several ridings.

Electoral fraud occurred during the last federal election, a federal court judge ruled on Thursday, but there is no proof that it affected the outcomes in six ridings at issue, so the elections will not be overturned.

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While I understand that the judge is ruling in essence that the degree of fraud that took place in 2011 wasn't sufficient to justify overturning the results of the election in those ridings, I have to disagree with his conclusions.

First, I think that the ruling overlooks the consequences of voter suppression tactics for Canada's democracy.

Fundamentally, it calls into question the validity of the results of the election not just in the ridings where these games were played, but across the country.  Fraud, no matter the degree, is an explicit and intentional abuse of the electoral system itself.  To prevaricate about "the degree" to which a party engaged in fraud during an election is basically giving the party in question a license to continue using those tactics.  This calls into question the validity of any future elections with that party involved.

Second, the awareness that fraud took place in the last election tells those who vote against that party that their votes will be marginalized even further.  That is a guaranteed way to encourage more voters to simply stay at home - mostly on the basis of "why bother - it's all rigged anyhow".  I cannot blame them when a years-long court battle over known electoral fraud and misdirection ends up with a ruling that is a "split down the middle".

Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley ruled that the calls “struck at the integrity of the electoral process by attempting to dissuade voters from casting ballots for their preferred candidates. This form of ‘voter suppression,’ was, until the 41st General Election, largely unknown in this country.” 
The evidence points to “a concerted campaign by persons who had access to a database of voter information maintained by a political party,” Mosley writes, but says there was no allegation that any of the candidates in the six ridings were responsible for the campaign. 
“I find that electoral fraud occurred during the 41st General Election but I am not satisfied that it has been established that the fraud affected the outcomes in the subject ridings and I decline to exercise my discretion to annul the results in those districts.”

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Frankly, I don't give a damn whether any of the candidates started the campaign of voter suppression or not.  The fact that the party obviously provided access to their database of voter information is enough in my opinion to call the entire thing into question.  Corruption is corruption.  I don't care if it starts with the individual candidate or some committee in the party campaign war room.  Fraud at either end is still fraud.  The guilty party should be held accountable for its actions.

More to the point, Canadians have a right to expect that their elections are free and fair.  Attempting to persuade voters of the platforms of various parties and candidates is fair ball.  Attempting to discourage or outright prevent voters from voting is NOT.

“In reaching this conclusion, I make no finding that the Conservative Party of Canada or any CPC candidates or RMG and RackNine Inc., were directly involved in any campaign to mislead voters,” he ruled. 
“I am satisfied, however, that the most likely source of the information used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the CPC, accessed for that purpose by a person or persons currently unknown to this court.”

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Whether the judge realizes it or not, he has essentially given the green light to further voter fraud next election.  What he has said boils down to a rather juvenile "It doesn't matter what you do, just don't get caught".  I've heard teenagers use this kind of logic to justify some pretty destructive acts ... and then they get caught.

There should be enormous consequences for this kind of violation for all parties involved.  If the Conservatives provided access to their CIMS database for this purpose, they should be held accountable.  PERIOD.  I don't care if it was the party which did it "officially" or if some agent of the party did it "under the table" - it doesn't matter.  If the party hasn't got adequate access controls on their database, they need to fix that; if they don't have adequate controls over who gets access to that data, that's their problem too.  Ultimately, the party has fought tooth-and-nail against this, meanwhile it's been painfully clear that one of their operatives decided it would be a good idea.  The party - and its leadership - set the tone which led someone to think that electoral fraud was acceptable behaviour.  It should be held accountable.   If you can nail it down to the individuals who perpetrated this, so much the better - hold them to the fire as well.

The courts have dropped the ball on this one.

In a related note, I would point out that the recent Alberta election had the Wildrose Party abusing the robocall mechanism as part of their campaign.  At least they are being held accountable for this.  Granted, WRP hasn't been accused of electoral fraud here.

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