Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kevin Versus The Volcano

First off, my apologies for my extended absence, Nation. It's been an interesting time, a great deal of which has been spent in and en route to hospital emergency rooms - perhaps more on that later.

Some of the issues I want to touch on in the next few days may be a day or 2 past their expiry dates, but please bear with me - I'm only going to post on the issues for which I feel I can actually add something substantive to the debate, rather than simply contributing to the noise. I'll make it worth your while - I promise. :)

Now then...

Kevin Taft has decided to seize the moment, and is calling for the Auditor General to investigate the Alberta General Election, citing voting irregularities and incompetence on the part of Elections Alberta - a mere 4 months after the election.

Wow... way to strike while the iron's hot, Kevin.

Taft, many of you will recall, spent a good 2 weeks of the campaign accusing Elections Alberta of wrongdoing and biased hiring practices, before a single vote had been cast. As you read here, I pointed out (rightly) that attacking the referee's credibility is the surest sign that you know you're hopelessly overmatched, and need an "out" to save your pride and, possibly, your job (of the people I mentioned in the linked post, Wilson and Tortorella were fired, Taft "stepped down", and Mason is practically begging Rachel Notley to take his job). The allegation that "the fix was in" is a ridiculous one meant to soothe Taft's shattered ego. The reality is, he didn't lose because many of the deputy returning officers personally supported the Tories. He lost because he ran a bad campaign that failed to capture the hearts and minds of Albertans.

Taft is saying some Liberal scrutineers have remarked this was the "worst-run election they have ever witnessed". I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume they're not talking about what they saw in Liberal party headquarters (although, the results sort of speak for themselves).

Now, I will back Kevin on some of his points.

Firstly, the voter's list was an unmitigated disaster. As an example of that, consider that I only cast 33% of the ballots I was eligible to cast... I was on the voter's list 3 times, between 2 different constituencies. Using my example, it's possible every man and woman in Alberta voted this March, and the list errors account for the huge number (59%) of "non-voters". Unlikely, yes... but possible. This made line-ups at the polls longer, made life exceedingly difficult for campaign volunteers, and just generally cast an unfavourable light on Elections Alberta.

Also, the enumeration was incomplete, the website going down ON ELECTION DAY was a fiasco, and many polling stations seemed to be flying by the seat of their pants. I'm guessing some areas were hurt by the fact that their area Deputy Returning Officers spent 2 weeks defending their own hiring in the media instead of being able to, you know, DO THEIR JOBS and train staff properly.

One wonders, though, why Taft is bringing this up now... why didn't he bring it up during the Spring Session of the Legislature, while the taxpayers were paying him and 82 others to tend to the business of the residents of this province... say, sometime between May 14th and May 28th?

Look, Nation: There were undeniable problems with the way the election was conducted, but they're far from fatal - this isn't Zimbabwe. 4 major "tweaks" to the system would drastically improve many of the problems we saw, in all their glory, on March the third.

  • Tweak 1: Legislate fixed election dates. It's pretty simple: If Elections Alberta knows, years in advance, when a vote is going to be held, they can PREPARE for it, and be READY when it happens. Staff, polling stations, literature, voter's list, enumeration, website - all of it. From a political stand-point, by giving up the ability to choose the most politically advantageous time at which to call an election, the governing party sends the message that they're more interested in fixing the problem than in exacerbating it for political gain. Sure, they lose that ultimate trump card, but it's made out to be more than it is... from late October of 2007, everyone (except, apparently, Elections Alberta) knew a provincial election call was right around the corner, and yet the PC's still managed to govern without the "lame duck" effect taking hold. Our municipal governments deal with fixed election dates, and those elections tend to be quite orderly.

  • Tweak 2: Give Elections Alberta the resources it needs. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Ensure that EA has the computers, staff, and funding necessary to do the job, and do it right. Considering how many millions of dollars go into party advertising during elections, I don't think it's out of line that the taxpayers be on the hook to fully fund the department whose job it is to make sure nobody cheats.

  • Tweak 3: De-politicize the hiring process. By instituting fixed election dates and giving Elections Alberta the resources it needs to recruit, hire and train the best available help, you eliminate the need for the province's biggest political entity to put forward a list of interested people for appointment to the jobs. Put EA in direct control of their own hiring, and they can vet to their heart's content... "are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the PC Party of Alberta?". Even if they end up hiring a bunch of the same DRO's who spent much of the election defending their hiring instead of training poll workers, the change in the process will help clear the air. I don't for a second believe the DRO bias in any way affected the outcome of this election, but if there's a way to get rid of the APPEARANCE of impropriety, I'm all for it.

  • Tweak 4: Work in partnership with Elections Canada, StatsCan, and other governmental agencies to keep your information current. Elections Canada knows damned sure where I live. StatsCan has that information as well, yet I've never had direct 2-way contact with either entity. Neither has "enumerated" me, or sent someone to my home to ask me questions... the information was ON MY TAX FORM. I know the feds got it, because they mailed me a cheque back, to the proper address. By working in partnership with those and other agencies, we can keep an up-to-date voter's list, lessening the burden on everyone come election time. Passports? Driver's Licenses? Alberta Health Care? Records check for employment purposes? Income tax? All require providing your current address to a governmental agency. That agency then stores the information. Why, then, if I have provided my address to all 5 of those agencies, is it even remotely possible for me to show up to vote, and have Elections Alberta be unaware of my current address? For that matter, how can the City of Calgary know where I live for voting purposes, and the Federal Government know the same, but the province have no idea? Issue us all voter ID numbers, if you can't use the SIN numbers (it's my idea, so if they actually DO issue voter ID numbers, I call dibs on VID# 0000001)... and don't tell me about FOIP. These are all government agencies, they are entrusted with much more delicate information about each of us than "current address", so they can at least share THAT info with each other. Alberta Registries shares your address, full name, and date of birth with the police, after all... and that's enough for Officer Swanson to apply for a credit card in your name. So, either we trust our government agencies with our information, or we don't. But at this point, having "Savage, E." on the voter's list 3 times, at 3 wrong addresses in 2 ridings and having campaign volunteers calling to speak to people on the voter's list who died in 2001 is just embarrassing.

I say, if Taft wants a clean-up of the electoral system in Alberta to be his legacy, then he should get fully on-board with the effort. The Premier should empower a legislative committee to make the above-listed changes, and Taft should ask to serve on it. Hell, he should ask to chair it. We're not talking about altering the way we elect MLA's, or electing the Lt. Governor - we're just talking about cleaning up, modernizing and stream-lining Elections Alberta and how they do business.

That way, the next Liberal leader will have no one to blame but themselves.

... or those stupid Albertans who keep voting for the damned PC's - right, Kevin?

1 comment:

Brian Dell said...

Fine suggestions, but they aren't going anywhere if the P"C"s don't agree to them. It makes little sense to wag the finger at the Liberals about fixed election dates when the Liberals have long supported them.

The P"C"s have nothing to fear anyway since their real trump card is the fact there is no proportional representation in Alberta.