Published in the Vancouver Observer | November 15, 2011 | Circulation: 99,000 unique monthly readers
Low-income voters were turned away from polls Saturday as a result of pressure from the NPA, COPE party officials have alleged.
Would-be voters in the Downtown Eastside faced longer-than-usual line-ups as election officials tightened up rules permitting residents with no fixed address to vote, despite city assurances that living on the street or in a shelter would not bar voters, they say.
“With no access to identification, they effectively were denied the right to vote,” said Nathan Allen, co-campaign manager of COPE. “Scrutineers on behalf of NPA created enough tension so officials erred on the side of disenfranchising people.”
“Effectively, they frustrated the vote by making the lines long and the process arduous — many people were not able to vote today.”
Allen said that COPE provided lawyers during advance polls and again Saturday, and they were authorized to sign statutory declarations verifying the identity of voters with no fixed address.
According to the City of Vancouver website: “Under the law, voters with no fixed address can register to vote using a general place of residence (see examples below) and by providing at least one piece of ID. If a voter has only one acceptable ID document, he/she can swear a Declaration of Identity and Residence in front of an Election Official at the voting place.”
Allen said that in the past – and in advance polls this week – city election officials accepted the lawyer-issued statutory declarations as identification. He added that many homeless residents are not able to pay for official identification, and do not have access to pay stubs or hydro bills.
A spokesperson from the NPA said that party scrutineers were only observing and did not influence the election officials, who were merely enforcing existing rules.
“The NPA had nothing to do with the delays,” said Michael Davis, communications director with the NPA. “It was one of the election officials who challenged people who came in without identification, and they were redirected to another poll.
“The mandate (of scrutineers) is the same it always is — to ensure the vote is fair and carried out according to the law.”
Allen estimates that at least 50 voters were turned away, and others left in frustration when lines lengthened.
“In the Downtown Eastside, we’re disappointed by the voter turnout, but we do everything we can to increase it,” he said. “We have a sense of pride that everything possible is done to encourage them to vote.”
“I haven’t heard anything about it. In any election there are a lot of allegations and most of them are untrue,” said NPA campaign chair Peter Armstrong.
The allegations, which could not be confirmed with elections officials, are reminiscent of efforts during the 2004 U.S. elections, when thousands of African-American voters were turned away from the polls because of challenges from Republican scrutineers.