October 19th, 2015


Election Day

Recently, there has been some blather about whether or not people should be allowed to vote with their face covered, as it theoretically could permit voter fraud. This is stupid, as the current rules do not strictly require you to show photo identification to vote; comparing your face to photo on your ID should therefore be unnecessary.

There have been changes to the identification required to vote, which (intentionally or not) disenfranchises people living on First Nations reserves, people in the health care system for long periods of time, and people who move frequently due to underemployment or homelessness. There are theoretically alternative methods to accommodate such voters.

I want to live in a country where every eligible person can cast their vote. To reassure myself that this is the case, I did an experiment during tonight's election. I put myself in the place of someone totally broke, who didn't want to show her face for ID comparison, who had been in a hospital for years (and therefore didn't have utility bills, car registration, or a driver's license), who didn't own real estate, who didn't have a credit card or bank account, and who didn't attend a school or have a job.

When I was asked for ID at the voting station, I handed over a prescription pill container, and a battered 25-year-old SIN card with a prefix from another province. Neither showed my photograph.

Elections Canada states that this is sufficient identification to vote in federal elections.


The election staff refused to let me vote. They said photo ID was mandatory.

I had brought a copy of the list of acceptable ID with me (the same one that was in front of them). I pointed out the items on the list.

The election staff refused to let me vote. They said photo ID was mandatory.

I explained again that my identification complied with the Elections Canada requirements.

The election staff refused to let me vote. They said photo ID was mandatory.

I became a kindly brontosaurus, leaning against the table, smiling gently, and reiterated. They refused. I repeated.


After the fifth round of explanations, they gave up, and gave me my ballot.

Someone homeless, living in a hospital, or nervous with authority figures might not have the spoons to keep asking to vote. Having alternative methods of identification for society's more vulnerable members doesn't help if those methods aren't actually accepted. I wonder if this was an isolated issue, or if Elections Canada needs to modify the training it provides to polling station personnel.

Voting methods

Canada has a first-past-the-post voting system based on geography. Whichever candidate in a geographical area ("riding") gets the most votes, wins. If you didn't vote for the winner, your ballot is wasted, and you had no influence on the election. If there are ten candidates, one can win with only 11% of the vote if the others get 9.9% each; she'd still win despite being hated by 89% of the voters. This encourages "strategic voting". Instead of voting for the candidate they like best, people vote for the person most likely to beat the candidate they hate the most.


Ranked voting based on geography is used in Australia and other areas. You rank the candidates in your geographical area in order of preference. If your candidate loses terribly, your ballot isn't wasted - instead, it gets counted towards your second-favourite candidate. This allows you to vote for whoever you honestly prefer, with less fear of someone you hate winning as a result.


A method that might be better would be to expand the size of the ridings, allow multiple winners in each riding, and give each winner power equivalent to the number of votes they get.

Let's look at a theoretical riding with 20,000 voters.

Today in Canada:

  • Alice campaigns for agricultural subsidies. Alice gets 7,000 votes. Alice gets a job, and gets one vote in Parliament to promote price supports for farmers.

  • Bob wants reduced regulation of banks. Bob gets 6,000 votes. Bob loses, and gets zero votes in Parliament.

  • Chandra wants more funding for COPD research. Chandra gets 4,000 votes. Chandra loses, and gets zero votes in Parliament.

  • Darry wants reduced regulation of the derivatives market. Darryl gets 2000 votes. Darryl loses, and gets zero votes in Parliament.

  • Edwina wants more funding for emphysema research. Edwina gets 1000 votes. Edwina loses, and gets zero votes in Parliament.

The government focuses on agriculture. The desires of the financial industry are ignored (for better or for worse), even though there are more voters that consider that a priority. No action is taken on lung diseases.

Now, suppose we triple the size of the riding to 60,000 voters. The three people with the most votes win. People who vote for Edwina indicate on their ballots that they like Chandra as their second choice. People who vote for Darryl indicate they like Bob as their second choice.


  • Alice gets 21,000 votes. Alice gets a job, and gets 1.05 votes in Parliament to push for agricultural subsidies.

  • Bob gets 18,000 votes, plus Darryl's 6000 votes. Bob gets a job, and gets 1.2 votes in Parliament to change banking laws.

  • Chandra gets 12,000 votes, plus Edwina's 3000 votes. Chandra gets a job, and gets 0.75 votes in Parliament for COPD research.

  • Darryl gets 6000 votes. Darryl loses, and his votes go to Bob.

  • Edwina gets 3000 votes. Edwina loses, and her votes go to Chandra.

This way, voters are more likely to get their preferred candidate into office. Minority groups are more likely to get an elected representative into power, giving them a voice in government and a means of having their needs heard.

A large disadvantage would be the larger ridings would make it harder for people to physically canvass the region, shaking hands and meeting voters. Campaigns would have to be more dependent on the internet and other methods of communication, and would be less personal and intimate than they are today. People would have to travel farther to visit their local constituency office.

An annoyance would be that weird candidates would be more likely to get a voice in government, even if they would have no power. Politics could get more bizzare than today's sedate, polite forum of gentle discourse on the issues.


  • Kendra is kind. Kendra gets 59,990 votes. Kendra gets a job, and gets 2.99995 votes in Parliament for kindly deeds.

  • Larry wants to replace handshaking with licking ears as the official means of greeting people. Larry gets 5 votes. Larry gets a job, and gets 0.00025 votes in Parliament. Every speech he makes to Parliament gets worldwide publicity for the country - but not in a good way.

  • Maude mutilates monkeys. Maude gets 5 votes. Maude gets a job, and gets 0.00025 votes in Parliament to revoke the laws against cruelty to animals.

What else am I missing?