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My take on the new voting rules

Abdelrazik Abdellatif dips his finger in indelible ink after voting in Tikrit, Iraq, on Sunday in the country's parliamentary elections in 2010.

JUSTIN MERRIMAN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Abdelrazik Abdellatif dips his finger in indelible ink after voting in Tikrit, Iraq, on Sunday in the country's parliamentary elections in 2010.

It appears that the federal government is poised to make some changes to how national elections are run in this country.

Here's the full story from the Canadian Press.

Although there are some good things in there, and some bad things, as well as a whole pile of tweaks that aren't really good nor bad, the one thing that caught my attention was the tightened ID requirements.

Voters will no longer be able to "vouch" for another voter, should the second voter lack ID.

This is, apparently, a huge concern, although it's the first I've heard of concern at all.

Actually, if I recall correctly, even the ability to "vouch" for another person was a fairly recent imposition. When I first voted — which wasn't THAT long ago — you could simply swear at the ballot box that you were an eligible voter, and they would let you check the box.

The whole "papers, please" fetish for government-issued ID had yet to take off.

I understand the issue — no one wants ineligible voters to pollute the election, and no one wants people to vote multiple times.

But I'm not sure that ever-stricter ID requirements is the right way to go about it.

Firstly, as has been a repeated issue in the United States, voter ID laws tend to disenfranchise some otherwise-eligble voters. Not everyone has a driver's license, for example. I know plenty of people who didn't bother to get one until their mid-20s — something that is becoming more and more common with millenials.

And a passport costs $100, perhaps an inconvenience if you're about to spend a few thousand on a trip, but a potentially huge barrier if you only want to go the elementary school gym to mark an X.

It won't be clear what other ID will be allowed, but they're all problematic, especially for young people and poor people — segments of the population that are already less likely to vote. We should be HELPING them to cast a ballot, not hindering them.

Personally, I like the elegant solution that I read about being used in the first post-Saddam elections in Iraq.

Voters, many of whom didn't have any sort of ID, were allowed to vote basically as a free-for-all. But once they'd cast a ballot, they had their finger dipped into bright purple ink — ensuring that they couldn't vote more than once.

That's something I think I could support here. It would end the need for onerous ID checking, and could actually speed flow through the the voting process. That might encourage a few more people to vote.

There were concerns in Iraq that anti-democratic elements might target people with purple fingers in an effort to discourage voting, but I think the opposite would happen in Canada: You'd end up with a bright purple reminder signalling other people that it was time to vote — and that they hadn't. It's a classic 'nudge' that I think would also boost voting numbers, somewhat akin to the stickers you get when you donate blood.

Perhaps the biggest concern would be with people who vote where they aren't eligible.

Some might not be citizens, for example. But is it a really huge deal if people who live in Brandon, but who aren't citizens, also cast a vote for the person who will represent them? It's only custom that citizens get the vote — why not open it up to all residents?

Another issue might be trying to affect the outcome of elections by deliberately choosing which riding you'd vote in. Say I live in a safe Conservative seat in Westman, where my vote doesn't much matter one way or the other — but I decide on election day to drive in to Winnipeg so I can cast a ballot in a close race.

But would this be a problem? I can only see it being the fringe cases — the real political junkies — who individually try to foil the system like this.

In the most extreme example that I can think of, it could even add a new level of political gamesmanship, where campaigns might try to bus in loads of supporters from a safe seat to a close race, trying to tilt the balance in their favour.

But where's the negative there? That more people might get more excited about voting? People have been trying to organize similar vote-swapping online for ages — this would solve the trust issue because you would actually make the vote.

It would also tend to make ALL races closer, and in the end would probably lead to almost-proportional representation.

And in the BEST-cast scenario, political parties would become so reliant on transporting supporters to exploit the best use of their votes that they'd push to make Election Day a holiday, and voters would get treated to basically free mini-vacations.

All with a purple finger.

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