What Canada can teach the United States about Voter Registration
Tonight on CBC Radio’s As It Happens, a piece aired examining voter registration and voter suppression in the United States 2008 Presidential election. Unlike many European countries and in complete contrast to Canada’s federally administered national elections, America cleaves to a “States’ Rights” version of voter franchise. Across each of the fifty states irregular practices abound.
The recent brouhaha over ACORN – the non profit consortium dedicated to community building and anti-poverty advocacy – there are even Canadian chapters – regarding alleged voter registration “fraud” illustrate a chaotic and non-standardized system.
In a country where a Florida anchor woman asks the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate if his running mate for President is a Marxist based on her understanding of his centrist tax policies, perhaps such an allergy to systemic, nationally sponsored and administered systems should come as no surprise.
In startling contrast to Canada’s Chief Election Officer, in the U.S., the votes of each eligible citizen are determined by processes overseen by a Secretary of State who is either a partisan Democrat or Republican. An example of the risk of this practice is no better exemplified than in the person of Indiana’s Secretary of State, Todd Rokita. He is infamous in the world of political hackery as a GOP operative in earlier Florida presidential elections under then Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Ms. Harris, the scion of one of Florida’s wealthiest “old” families (Griffin cattle and citrus) gained notoriety for questionable practices such as an overly expansive “sweep” of “felons” in order to suppress their votes.
In California, private for hire companies get paid “by the card” to “bring in” registered voters. In Canada’s regulated voting system voter enumeration, registration and poll conduct on election day are nationally mandated and by paid Federal civil servants and their local agents. Many of us have perhaps been poll clerks or even District Returning Officers and yes, we often adhere to a political party. But we swear oaths to a non partisan Chief Officer and to the Crown. Compared to the chaos of the U.S. piece meal system, the “red tape” of regulation never looked so good.
What might not be widely understood is the line threaded from voter suppression in 2008 in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth of Virginia to the legacy of slavery. In comparing Canada’s Elections Act to that of the patchwork in the United States which lacks any such central law, what we see is an aversion to federalist power rooted in a very old concept: States’ Rights, most famously enunciated by the Confederate, John C. Calhoun. You cannot understand today’s screaming headlines of the Republican Party, claiming “voter fraud” without also thinking about slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, the Black Codes (Wynton Marsalis, in the liner notes to his album of the same name, explains things very well) the terrible era of Jim Crow and segregation and the subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the coming weeks, American should look away from Dixie and train their sights north, to see how to properly enshrine and deliver on one person, one vote.