By Sheila Pratt, edmontonjournal.comEDMONTON - How long should voters have to wait in line before it is an infringement of their charter right to vote? That’s one key issue under scrutiny in a court case launched by Liberal MLA Kevin Taft involving numerous irregularities in the March 2008 Alberta election.While government lawyers attempted to derail Taft’s case Thursday, his lawyers said a person’s charter right to vote was infringed in 2008 by long waiting times at the polls, inaccurate voters’ lists, lack of mobile polling stations and people directed to the wrong polling stations.He hopes to convince the court to order the government to take new measures to prevent similar problems and thereby set a higher standard for fair elections that could have an impact across the country.Lawyers for the chief electoral officer defended the 2008 election, saying that the long waiting times developed because so many people had to be sworn in at the polling stations. But that didn’t prevent people from voting.“In every election, there are lineups,” said Bill Shores, noting Americans can wait hours and in Africa most of a day.Under the charter, “you don’t have a right to vote without any inconvenience at all,” he said.Besides, anyone who wanted to vote without standing in line could have made sure their names was on the voter list before polling day, he said.But Taft’s lawyer, Grant Dunlop, argued the government has a legal obligation to “create effective machinery” to make it as easy as possible for people to vote, including accurate voters lists.“Your right to vote includes a corresponding obligation by the state” to provide an efficient. though not perfect process, he said.That didn’t happen in 2008 mainly because the government delayed appointing returning officers until a few weeks before the election, with the last one appointed the day the writ was dropped.That meant there was no time to complete even more limited or targeted enumerations in new suburbs, for instance, he said.As a result, in 2008, about one in every four voters — about 250,000 people had to be sworn in at the polls because the voter lists were incomplete, Dunlop said.In contrast in 2005, only about 20,000 people were sworn in at the polls.But Shores defended the list, saying there are many “fail-safes” built in. Voters can phone into get on the lists, for instance or go on the Internet.That prompted Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Mel Binder to question whether a charter right to vote should be guaranteed on a fail-safe measure.Shores also argued that there is no causal connection between the late appointment of returning officers and the problems Taft raises.But Dunlop disagreed, citing four letters from the chief electoral office to the government, warning of problems if preparation did not get underway.“The lateness of these appointments concerns me greatly. Service to the electorate may be greatly affected,” warned Lorne Gibson, former chief electoral officer.Earlier in the day, government lawyers argued that Taft had no standing to bring a charter challenger to court on behalf of others because his own right to vote was not infringed in the election.Otherwise the door would be open “for anyone to come forward” to court who heard a complaint about voting and that kind of loose standard is “problematic,” Robert Normey said.But Dunlop argued that Section 3 of the charter guarantees a person’s right to run for office as well as the right to vote. If people have trouble getting to the polls because the election is not well run, that infringes on any candidate’s right to run for office.“So Taft’s right to run is infringed upon if people can’t get to vote,” said Dunlop, adding he’s not arguing that anyone would have that standing.Whether enumeration is a useful way to compile a voters list is also at issue. The topic is particularly of interest now with a spring election expected and the chief electoral officer’s revelation last week that about 300,000 are missing from the current voters’ list.
By Sheila Pratt, [email protected]This article was published in the Edmonton Journal on November 24, 2011. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.