Confusing vote rules for expats 'ridiculous;' Elections Canada denies blame

Elections Canada conceded the legislation can be confusing. It says it's up to government to fix the problem.

A voter enters a polling station for the Federal Election in Toronto (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

TORONTO — A long-term Canadian expat who cast a ballot last month for the Oct. 19 election should not have done so, Elections Canada said Thursday.

Essentially, officials say, the local returning officer allowed Ashley O’Kurley to vote in his old Alberta riding on the basis he was a Canadian resident who was going to be away during the election period.

O’Kurley, who lives in Miami but was visiting Canada when the election was called, tells a different story — one Elections Canada disputes.

“I showed up at the local returning office … truthfully shared my circumstances and my desire to vote,” O’Kurley said.

“After checking with Ottawa, the Elections Canada officials handed me a special ballot that I filled out and placed in the ballot box.”

    Someone in Ottawa is now trying to duck responsibility for having given the local official bad advice, O’Kurley said.

    Recent enforcement under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government of a long-standing law — upheld by the courts at this point — has barred roughly 1.4 million Canadian citizens who have lived outside Canada for more than five years from voting abroad via a special mailed-in ballot.

    A Canadian Press article on the anger some of them feel at being disenfranchised included an account of O’Kurley’s voting, prompting another expat Canadian to try to vote in his old riding in Vancouver.

    However, a frustrated Stephen Murphy, who lives in Singapore, was denied a ballot. Officials did tell him he could vote — but only in person at the advance poll next month or on voting day itself.

    “I don’t take kindly to being bullied, telling me what I can and cannot do,” Murphy said.

    “Throughout our history, there have been wars fought over lack of representation and taxation. This is ridiculous. I’m just flabbergasted over the whole thing. All these years I thought I was the one living in a Third World country.”

    The finger pointing highlights the confusing rules in play, which include:

    — Long-term expats, with some exceptions such as diplomats, cannot vote from abroad;

    — Long-term expats can vote in person at an advance poll or on election day in the riding they lived in before leaving Canada;

    — Long-term expats cannot vote under rules allowing resident Canadians, who will be away during the voting period, to vote at their local returning office;

    — Long-term expats can run in any riding in the country, if they meet other basic requirements;

    — Long-term expats who become candidates cannot vote for themselves, unless running in the riding in which they last lived before leaving Canada.

    The current situation is patently absurd, O’Kurley said.

    “All this ridiculous hair-splitting over time and place would be so unnecessary if the only litmus test for voting was citizenship,” O’Kurley said. “Policies that suppress Canadians’ ability to participate in their democracy are not worthy of Canadian democratic leadership in the world.”

    O’Kurley noted that Elections Canada facilitates voting for long-term expats who work for the Canadian government, but not if they work for a private Canadian company.

    Elections Canada conceded the legislation can be confusing but said it only enforces rules made by government _ and it’s up to government to fix any problems.


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