Election Act amendments provide increased voter accessibility

BILL 20, the Election Amendment Act, was introduced to the House on Tuesday by Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton.

If passed, the amendments would provide for increased voter accessibility and participation as well as addressing other financial, administrative and communications processes that have been identified by government and by the province’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO).

The amendments introduced today that respond to the recommendations of the CEO include:

* Removing the requirement for a leadership contestant who is acclaimed and who has neither raised nor spent any funds to file a financing report.

* Permitting constituency associations to incur election expenses on behalf of a candidate throughout the campaign period, rather than being restricted to the first 10 days of a campaign period as the act currently requires.

* Making consistent identification requirements for all individuals who vouch for another person who applies to register to vote in conjunction with voting. Currently, family members of applicants are not required to produce identity documents.

* Requiring election officials to provide voter turnout information to candidates during advance voting and general voting. Currently, candidate representatives can observe voting proceedings at polling places and track voter turnout. However, there is no authority for election officials to provide this information directly to candidates.

Other amendments include:

* Adding two more days of advance voting, i.e. the Saturday and Sunday prior to the existing Wednesday-Saturday advance voting days.

* Removing all references in the act to the 60-day pre-campaign period. That period has not applied to third-party election advertising sponsors since the B.C. Supreme Court struck the provisions down in 2009. However, it still applies to political parties and candidates.

* Permitting candidates, political parties and constituency associations to send social media messages on general voting day that have the sole purpose of encouraging voters to vote in the election.

* Requiring the CEO to provide a list of voters to registered political parties after an election that indicates which voters voted in that election.

* Expanding the scope of fundraising expenses that do not count towards the election expense limits for political parties and candidates.

Additional related amendments that are necessary to accommodate the new earlier days of advance voting include:

* Setting the closed period of registration as beginning the day after an election is called, rather than on the 8th day after an election is called;

* Shortening the deadline for candidates to file their nomination papers from the current 10th day of the campaign period to the 7th day; and

* Removing the requirement of the CEO to produce a preliminary voters list and a revised voters list during the campaign period. Instead, the CEO would produce a single list as soon as possible after the start of the campaign period. Voters who are not on the voters list by the start of the campaign period could still register in conjunction with voting at either advance voting or on general voting day.

Bill 20 also contains a consequential amendment that would repeal sections of a miscellaneous statutes bill passed by the Legislature in 2012. The amendments were government’s second set of legislative changes to regulate spending during a pre-campaign period. They were not supported by the court and so they were never brought into force; however, they remain on the books.

If passed, the legislation would be brought into force upon royal assent this spring.