New ID Rules Expected To Hurt Native Voter Turnout

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 12:35



Canada’s Aboriginal leaders say new voting rules mean thousands of Native people could be discouraged from going to the polls for today’s federal election.


They say a requirement that voters must show identification — including proof of a street address — poses a challenge for the Aboriginal population.


Many don’t have a lot of government-issued identification or a recognized address complete with name and street number.


For some Aboriginal people, their only address is the name of their reserve.


Parliament voted to amend the federal Elections Act almost two years ago to clamp down on voter fraud.


But Union of Ontario Indians Grand Council Chief John Beaucage says the rules will discourage more Aboriginal people from voting at a time when they could tip the balance in dozens of ridings.


Beaucage says Aboriginal voter turnout is low at the best of times, hovering around 25 per cent.


Elections Canada says voters can have a fellow resident vouch for them at the polling station if they don’t have anything to prove where they live.


Meantime, a recent survey by Elections Canada found that prior awareness of new voter rules was lower in Desnethe-Missinipi Churchill River than other parts of the country in by-elections held earlier this year.


After the March vote, a review was done of northern Saskatchewan’s preparedness for the changes, along with three other constituencies.


It found that only 74 per cent of registered voters in northern Saskatchewan were aware they needed ID with a name and street address on it, compared to 90 per cent of the other three areas.


Desnethe voters also took 22 per cent longer to fill out their ballot, due to the changes.


As well, just 41 per cent of election officers in the riding said the reaction from voters to the changes was favourable.


(includes files from The Canadian Press)