2016-11-09 By Danny Lam
Last fall, I had the privilege of being a small part of the Canadian Federal Electoral system that facilitated and administered the right to vote in a fair, honest, transparent Federal Election in one of the most developed, advanced, civilized, and peaceful nations in the world.
I met, face-to-face, about 5,000 voters over the course of 3 weeks as they came in to cast a ballot, with all the rights and privileges they are entitled to by Canadian law like secrecy, protection from undue influence, threat of or actual violence, and so on. I personally served about 1,500 advance voters.
As an election official, I have no illusions how difficult it is to protect this franchise: How eager, willing, and, hard persons work to undermine the rights and fairness of the system I was sworn to protect.
Many a times, I had to actively intervene to enforce the law. It may be something as simple and mild as demanding the removal of campaign material from persons in the poll, or to request and require cameras present on nearly everyone’s cell phone from being used.
Preventing attempts to undermine the secrecy of the ballot by third parties going with the voter to the polling booth, unlawful campaigning or talking to them (often in languages I do not understand) while the voter is in the booth is an ever present challenge.
But these often crass attempts at violation of election law are balanced by hundreds of other examples of voters that I helped exercise their franchise. Many of them have never voted before, had no idea about the identification requirements under the law or the process of voter registration leading to the issuance of a ballot that they can mark and cast in secret, knowing that it will be accurately, fairly, and honestly tabulated.
To these new voters, I was a friendly face that guided them through the process and ensure that they were treated courteously, expeditiously and in accordance with the law. Sometimes, it was to the annoyance of other election officials whose misinterpretation of the law and rules resulted in people being turned away at first.
Then there are the elderly, ill, disabled, linguistically or otherwise challenged voters who made incredible physical and mental efforts, and, overcome logistical challenges to make it to the polling booth. These voters are entitled (by law) to every reasonable assistance to ensure that they were able to exercise their franchise. Be it interpreters, provision of aid for visually impaired, or working around phobias.
Imagine all these voters, especially those who are challenged, making the effort to come to the poll, lining up, often for hours, for the precious opportunity to have a say in who governs them.
I’d like to see anyone try telling them (or me) that one vote don’t matter.
Through this process, I am by law, and by the call of duty, required to respect the voter’s choice made in secret as sacred.
No election official involved in the elections process can question, hint, or even so much as display any signal of approval or disapproval of any choice that the elector made, or violate secrecy except in accordance with the law. Or permit any other party to do so in violation of the law.
However an elector arrived at their decision to vote (or not vote in Canadian Federal Elections), who to vote for, or to spoil, or refuse a ballot, is a choice that the electoral system unequivocally respect.
No matter what though process went into their decision making, how an elector choose their choice is theirs alone to make, for reasons only they will know, in secret.
The voter’s prejudices, emotion, logic, gut feel, allegiance to tribe, clan, kinship, greed, interest, ignorance, mistakes, etc. that guide their choice must be respected no matter how deplorable anyone may find them.
Every elector’s ballot, irrespective of age, ethnic, religion, creed, gender, economic, social standing, status, etc. is counted exactly the same and added together by election officials. Any doubtful ballot is handled strictly in accordance with the rules.
The results that I played a small part in enumerating fairly, efficiently, and honestly, collectively, is the expression of the people’s will.
In our Democracy, the people only have occasional chances once every few years to speak collectively in elections.
But when they do, their view have to be treated as the most powerful civil expression of power because it confers legitimacy from below (the people) to a much smaller group of leaders above who represent them.
The power conferred by an electorate to the politicians above in the case of Canadian Federal Elections include the power to make war on behalf of the electorate. And to do so without the consent of Parliament.
Sometime in the future, our democracy will be seen as an anarchism in light of better solutions.
Representative democracy can be seen as hardly much of an improvement over being ruled by a hereditary nobility, or strongman, or puppet of other forces like oligarchs.
But for now, this limited, occasional expression of popular sovereignty whose outcome is accepted by all parties concerned is the privilege of on 2 or 3 billion people in the world.
Many in the world will be fortunate if they have this option in lieu of civil war, insurgency, terrorism, or other violent means to effect change the political system.
Fair elections with outcomes accepted peacefully and gracefully by all participants is a precious right, hard won, and hard to protect even in Canada.
That is why I find it incredulous for so called “establishment” figures in Democracies to attempt to immediately overturn or undermine the results of plebiscites like BREXIT, Scottish Independence, Quebec Secession, or the election of Donald Trump, etc. just because they didn’t like the outcome.
And why I have no patience with those who blame the ignorance of the people for their “bad” choices.
When the people are given that rare occasion to choose, their choice must be respected by all parts of a civilized regime.
Americans on November 8th lawfully and fairly came to a decision that is accepted by all Americans.
The alternative is too frightful to consider.
When the people have spoken. The people have spoken.
President elect Trump and his team have been given a mandate by the American people.
The future is now and a new page in American political history is being turned.
Danny Lam is an independent analyst based in Calgary.