Fair Elections Act Impact Assessment on Hamilton

The following was a presentation to the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction’s full membership on April 11th 2014.  The presentation and follow-up group exercise, led to a unanimous decision by those present to further engage Hamiltonians in the issue.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. The removal of Vouch Voting from the Fair Elections Act will exclude some Hamiltonians in poverty from exercising this right and leave many more potentially losing it.  The risk of being disenfranchised particularly affects seniors, students, the disabled, aboriginals and low-income Canadians from all walks of life.

Vouch voting is not solely about proving identity but also proving where they live. The removal of vouch voting alone could affect the approximately 4000 individual men and women who use in an emergency shelter in Hamilton each year, the estimated 3000 to 6500 women alone who live in hidden homelessness, the 5,300 Hamilton households with an active application for the affordable housing waitlist,  the 62% of 18,000 food bank users who state they would lose their homes if they didn’t have a food bank, 46% of low-income renters at high risk of homelessness, currently paying more than 50% of their incomes on housing.

This is not a supposition.  Studies have found that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population.  The reasons for moving vary due to  unplanned or involuntary circumstances occur, such as affordability, illness and/or job loss, eviction or foreclosure. If these occur 4 to 6 weeks before an election, they may lose their ability to provide proof of residence.  For people who are homeless, absolute or hidden, they cannot provide proof of residence at all.  They can and do experience more theft on average, resulting in stolen identification or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability.

For some, one of the following, issued by the responsible authority of a shelter, soup kitchen, student/senior residence, could in theory, be used as identification if they organizations are willing to do so: Attestation of Residence, Letter of Stay, Admission Form.  Likewise for those people living in alternative facilities in Hamilton; ranging from YMCA/YWCA, nursing homes (especially those who have bills sent to family members), second level lodging, addictions programs, to long term hospital stay.  These examples rely on a third party to provide the necessary documentation which is not always easy.

Furthermore, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has always acknowledged the link between poverty and social inclusion; citing low voter turn out in low income areas to be of concern.  With the removal of Elections Canada’s ability to provide non-partisan materials to teachers and community organizations about the democratic system and the importance of voting, voter turn out will further erode. An Elections Canada evaluation of its student vote program, showed that it had increased students’ knowledge of politics and the electoral progress.  It could also affect access to information about our political process for new Canadians.

The right to vote is at the very heart of democracy. The disenfranchisement of any Canadian in this process is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Any allowed erosion of that Charter challenges the freedoms of us all.  For this reason, the changes proposed Fair Elections Act should be important to Roundtable members, as it should to all Hamiltonians.