What we’re talking about when we talk about voter suppression

There seem to be three kinds of election mischief being discussed in relation to the last federal campaign

by Aaron Wherry

Daniel Lobo/Flickr

At this point in the story, there seem to be three kinds of election mischief being discussed in relation to the last federal campaign. And it is probably worth differentiating between them.

Type 1. Late night or otherwise annoying calls purporting to be from one campaign or another, presumably intended to bring that campaign into disrepute. These have been alleged in various ridings with reports of calls coming at odd hours or callers being rude and offensive.

Type 2. Automated calls—”robocalls”—carrying messages that convey incorrect or misleading information about a voter’s polling station.

Type 3. Calls from live human callers who convey incorrect or misleading information about a voter’s polling station.

It is types 2 and 3 that I have focused on and, in that regard, I have so far identified 14 ridings where such claims are being made (see here and here). It seems to me that these are the most serious allegations, it being an offence under the Elections Act to “wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election.” For those 14 ridings, it is mostly unclear (to me at least) which calls were automated and which involved an actual person on the other end of the line, except in the case of Guelph, which seems to have involved robocalls.




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What we’re talking about when we talk about voter suppression

  1. I don’t think there is a distinction to be made based on whether the calls were automatically dialled and delivered (robocall) or those in which someone read from a script. Both are attempts at voter suppression if the information conveyed was deliberately false.

    Don’t forget the allegations that some callers identified themselves as Elections Canada staff.  That’s an offense as well regardless of content of call or whether the call(s) were effective in changing result of election in any riding.

    So actually four issues:

    1)  attempted voter suppression (your 2 & 3 above)
    2)  successful voter suppression influencing result of voting in any riding
    3)  impersonation of Elections Canada official
    4)  lack of follow up of many complaints of attempted voter suppression and impersonation of Elections Canada staff by Elections Canada

    At least those are the four I see.  And of the bunch, I think the last in my list is the most serious for Canada.  Confidence in our political system will only decline even more with the perception that such breaches are being tolerated.

    • I don’t think there is a distinction to be made based on whether the calls were automatically dialled and delivered (robocall) or those in which someone read from a script. 

      Not if it can be shown that the calls were DELIBERATELY misleading, no.  

      The only distinction would be that it’s more plausible that an automated calling system was accidentally misprogrammed, whereas in the case of the live operators there are now reports that some of the people they spoke to TOLD THEM that they were giving false information, some very angrily, and that some of the operators began to feel worried that they’d been deliberately asked to mislead voters, and even started telling the people they were calling to check with Elections Canada, as they doubted the veracity of the scripts they’d been told to follow.

      • Accidental misprogramming of what? The programming would be the dialer, not the content of the messages.  In the case of the robocalls, the content was recorded by a person, so misprogramming would not be a credible defense.  I don’t care whether misleading calls went to NDP, Liberal or Conservative voters. Nor whether they were paid for by either or all of these parties.

        What’s important is whether the content of these calls was constructed (recorded or scripted) with the intention of misleading any voter by conveying intentionally incorrect poll locations and/or misrepresenting they were being made by or on behalf of Elections Canada.

        If you are actually suggesting the recordings (and if the robocalls went
        to different cities, there would have to be more than one recorded
        message) were misrecorded accidentally by someone then I guess there’s a slim chance that might turn out to be the case.  But that will depend on more information that has not been discovered at this point, namely: how many of these recordings were incorrect and who recorded them. It is rather suspicious at this point that the calls said to have originated with RackNine’s equipment traced back to a disposable cell phone, so in the case of these calls, I don’t think a defense based on unintentional human error will hold up.

        If any of these recorded messages purported to be from Elections Canada then it matters not whether the polling station information was accidentally incorrect, presuming Elections Canada’s public declaration before the election (in response to the first reports of such calls) that they do NOT call voters directly was correct (a fair presumption IMO), because that breach of the Election Act would then be applicable.

        • Accidental misprogramming of what?

          The dialer. If the dialer is misprogrammed with phone numbers for Riding X, when the message is actually intended for voters in riding Y, then boom, misdirected voters.

          The likelihood of that being the case, however, is, of course, an ENTIRELY different question

      • There seem to be many things that the Conservative party has done “accidentally”. I don’t know what truth now is now as the waters have been so muddied, my real concern is that no one will probably care in a few weeks time. The liberals were seemingly permanently disgraced by the sponsorship scandal, while the conservatives are committing one reprehensible act after another with very little if any public outcry. 
        Have we become so jaded that we no longer care?!?

    • With live callers - there are then witnesses; ie. the people at the call centre can be interviewed. Not so easy with the robocall case.

      • Any voice messages saved from robocalls that did not get answered by a real person would be evidence.  Even affidavits from people who did not save the message or from people who actually answered and didn’t have a message to save will be evidence.

        Putting together the phone numbers of those willing to sign affidavits with the list of calls made by the robo dialer would wrap that up pretty nicely.  Since the robo dialer would be sending the same message to everyone programmed to receive it, the number of voters contacted with at least those illegal messages could then be very accurately known. 

        Given the selling point for the robocalls is that they can reach a lot of people quickly (and cheaply compared to having humans deliver the message) one can conclude the number of voters so affected will be large at the end of this investigation.

        In this case, it is the technology itself that is going to be the undoing of the perpetrators of this fraud.  Logs of all the calls will have been kept as confirmation that RackNine fulfilled its obligation (or any other robocall service). 

        For that matter, RackNine will have to have a copy of the recording used for each of these runs; there’d need to be at least one different recording for each city if it was about poll stations, so affidavits from people who received the calls may not even be necessary in the end, although they may be how the whole thing gets started.

        Rather ironic, isn’t it?

      • But with live callers are call centers, they would be using robodialers which have been loaded with a certain lists.

  2. Uh oh. I suspect Wherry’s preparing to lay down cover for some NDP/Lib shenanigans that are about to come to light.

    • Yup,everything is a plot, a conspiracy.  Best live under your bed to be safe.

      • Actually a lot of non-PC voters were directed to vote under Rick Omen’s bed.  It’s already pretty crowded down there! 

        • Heh….after I posted it I realized that’s probably where he thinks the ‘commies’ are hiding,  so I guess they can all party together.

  3. The most successful voter suppression technique out there is the utter inanity of the mainstream Canadian media.

    Same thing is now happening in Canada that happened in the States.  The media is both incompetent and stupid.

    The media is all about process because they don’t understand and are incapable of understanding any of the real issues.

    Sorry.  But that is how I see it.

    • Thank God the RCMP have started to investigate eh?

      • I’m worried that Harper’s massive system of control means he has more control over the RCMP Commissioner than we want here.

        • I guess this will be the test.  If they aren’t allowed to talk to the media it will not look good for Harper or them. 

    • Perhaps you are trolling, but can you be more specific about how the “media is all about process” and ”
      incapable of understanding any of the real issues ”?
      What are those real issues and how does the “utter inanity of the mainstream Canadian media”  suppress the vote? 

    • One has to wonder why the media didn’t make a big deal of this in May/June etc because the same evidence they are following now was available then. 
      Same could be said for the opposition parties. Why did they make nothing of this at the time, but are now in a furor when the same info was always available to them for sure.
      Wherry aren’t you a culprit in sweeping this under the rug at the time?

      • Once again I’ll point out that back in May/June the RCMP weren’t involved. Thus, without some heavy digging, it would be hard to say that there was anything more serious than the type 1 calls Wherry points out — which means a reporter could have simply been wasting his/her time if it turned out there was nothing significant — the likely result.

        Once the RCMP got involved, then it became obvious that there was something significant. That the likely result wasn’t really what happened, and journalists started to get interested.

        • OK. Good answer.

      • I’d like to point out that at least one MP did write to Elections Canada about reports of bogus calls with incorrect polling station information having been made and asking them to investigate.  But maybe EC needs more motivation to launch an investigation than this: http://imgur.com/SX1Cl

        It concerns me that EC appears to have done very little until now, despite their knowledge that there were reports coming in before voting day of just these types of calls being received.  We know they knew because they made statement clarifying they do not call voters directly – which was definitely reported by the media:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/story/2011/05/02/cv-election-polling-pranks-411.html

        From that article: “Elections Canada has had reports from several ridings from voters in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia who claim to have been given false information that directed them to the wrong place to vote.

        The campaign of Frank Valeriote, the Liberal candidate in Guelph, issued a statement on Monday saying it has received calls from citizens claiming they received calls from Elections Canada or the riding’s Conservative candidate saying the polling station has changed.

        The campaign has complained to Elections Canada and the Guelph police.”

        “Elections Canada is reporting that it has received more than 100 complaints from Kitchener-Waterloo and the Guelph areas. Another dozen complaints were fielded in the Ottawa area.”

        Surely EC didn’t think their warning to voters not to trust these calls was sufficient “action” on their part.

        • i believe EC has been investigating Racknine since November.  I think they’re not in the habit of talking about who they’re investigating.

          •  Apparently EC are not in the habit of reporting on complaints they’ve received at all. At least not the types we are concerned with here. The official report to parliament on the 41st election goes into great detail regarding quantity and category of complaints related to voter accessibility problems at the poll station, including data tables and detailed recommendations to address issues of accessibility.  

            However, only one line (not even a complete sentence) mentions the existence of complaints about telephone calls (rude, misleading polling station).  No numbers, no break down by ridings and definitely nothing about investigations into same whether completed or ongoing; no recommendations.

            This should change.

          • Is the 41st the last one or 2008?

          •  41st was the election in 2011

  4. Get used to the opposition taking unconfirmed facts to the media – it gets them attention and a chance to spin in an effort to create doubts about the conservatives.  Of course the 24/7 media feeds on this or else there is no “news”. 
     
    Kudos to Aaron for not posting about the “baby booting out of the HoC” last week.  That was a fine example of what I am talking about.

  5. RCMP Commissioner is too cozy with Harper’s Cabinet Ministers, and all his press releases have to go through the PMO’s office. This means the investigation is going to be weak, to say the least.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/01/20/pol-rcmp-paulson-toews-kenny.html

    Add this to CPC’s preferable call centre RMG having a fairly sophisticated database of Canadian’s voting information, PLUS the potential for Bill C-30 to make this database even more elaborate… Harper hopes to win a landslide election next time. We’ll all be inundated with dirty trick calls of all kinds.

    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1137730–marketing-strategist-stewart-braddick-plays-role-in-conservative-party-s-electoral-success

    • when are the black helicopters coming for you?

  6. I was lured away from voting by a hot redhead who used me as her personal sex toy all evening to stop me from voting Conservative.

    I feel so violated.  But in a good way.

  7. For me, at this point, I don’t feel like there is a need to prove that the Conservative party directed the robocalls in order for there to be a finding of election fraud. These calls were placed, there is evidence in the form of recorded calls and affidavits from many voters in several ridings. Elections Canada should allow for the results in the affected ridings to be overturned and order by-elections in those ridings.

    If these calls were directed by the CPC then there should be charges laid by the RCMP, and the PM should take full responsibility for the actions of his employees and caucus members. He is the leader of the party, and the buck stops with him.

    If Mr. Rae can be accountable for the actions of a staffer in a non-criminal, clever embarrassment of an MP which has had no effect on the rights of Canadian voters, then surely Mr. Harper will be accountable for the actions of his rogue staffer (Sona) in the Guelph riding which involved criminal acts and an attempt to pervert the course of democracy. I wait with baited breath.

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