Elections Canada set to eliminate 100,000 non-citizens from voters registry
A person casts a ballot in this file photo. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA – Elections Canada has identified and is set to eliminate some 103,000 people from the federal voters register who have been determined to be on the list illegally because they are not Canadian citizens.
Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault told the Senate National Finance Committee on Tuesday that his office has identified these names on the registered list of qualified electors and will be removing them before the 2019 federal election.
It is not clear how many of these people could have fraudulently cast a ballot in the 2015 campaign, though the register these names appear on is what informs the voter lists, meaning they could have received voter identification cards telling them they were eligible to vote. However, a voter information card alone cannot be used as a valid piece of identification at the polls.
“That is not something that we want obviously, because it appears as an invitation to vote,” Perrault told CTVNews.ca.
It would require considerable analysis to determine whether these potentially fraudulent votes would have affected the election result. Elections Canada is still looking into the matter to determine this, and try to establish how these names ended up on the register in the first place.
Though, Perrault said that the priority for now is cleaning up the list for the coming campaign.
“We will have tools that we didn’t have in the past to monitor that,” he said, including tracking who voted through a new electronic list. “We will be able to follow up after the election and check if people have attempted to vote or voted while being non-citizens.”
It is illegal for non-citizens to vote, or apply to register to vote if they know that they are not eligible. The federal register of electors is informed by multiple information sources, including provincial elections lists.
Perrault said that over 40,000 of these names have been on the list since 1997, and others could have showed up over the years in variety of ways, but one big source Elections Canada is looking at are provincial lists.
“To ensure the accuracy of the register, Elections Canada regularly draws on multiple data sources from over 40 provincial and federal bodies as well as from information provided directly by Canadians,” Perrault told the committee.
The ineligible names on the voters register were determined because of new powers granted to Elections Canada under the federal Liberals’ Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act. This bill made wide-spanning changes to Canada's elections laws, including new limits on spending and foreign participation, while also aiming to boost accessibility and participation in democracy.
Among the changes, the bill allowed Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to share information with Elections Canada about permanent residents and foreign nationals. By comparing the voter lists to this information, Elections Canada was able to determine the number of illegally registered voters.
Perrault called this a “much needed tool” for a “long recognized issue” of non-citizens appearing on the register of electors.
To put this number in context, Elections Canada said there are 27.1 million eligible electors on the national register as of 2018, and more than 17 million Canadians cast a ballot in 2015. According to Elections Canada, during the 2015 campaign 172,000 registered electors weren’t able to vote because they did not have the proper proof of identity or address. Of these, around 50,000 actually went to their polling place and were turned away.
Perrault told the committee that Elections Canada is now in the final stages of election preparations, which will include improving the quality of the list of electors.
Describing the scope of voter list changes that his office has to sort through between each campaign, Perrault said that every year three million Canadians move, 300,000 die, more than 100,000 people become citizens, and 400,000 turn 18, the eligble voting age. This can amount to some 70,000 changes in any given week.
As part of this effort, Elections Canada will be reaching out to around 250,000 households where it believes there are records that require a correction, including the 103,000 people who are non-citizens. This will include a mailout to specific people, as well as a wider pre-writ campaign encouraging Canadians to update their information.
Asked whether Canadians should be concerned that numerous people could have voted illegitimately, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould told reporters in French that she wouldn’t speculate because they do not know if these 103,000 people did vote. She also noted that it was this government that amended the law to allow these non-citizens to be identified and removed from the list by Elections Canada.
Will be monitoring voting misinformation
Facing questions about the potential impact a rise in disinformation and fake news online may have in the upcoming campaign, Perrault told senators that his office is designating a dedicated team responsible for monitoring social media to identify and correct any misleading information circulating about the voting process specifically.
This could include information about who is eligible, locations of polling places, and other information appearing to come from Elections Canada that is false.
Perrault said that this monitoring will use specific keywords that are general to the election or related to the shifting conversations happening during the campaign and will track public posts in “multiple languages.”
“If there is misinformation we will quickly respond,” Perrault told the committee.
He told CTVNews.ca that they will most likely be responding to this misinformation on social media, but could take to the radio or use their website to alert people in the case of “significant” misinformation.
“It has been fairly pervasive across jurisdictions around the world so there’s no reason to believe that we would be immune from that disinformation. In a way we’re preparing for the worst,” Perrault said.