OCTOBER 20, 2012 9:29PM

Information about voter rights by state: it's not pretty!

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With the recent rash of media-documented cases involving voter intimidation and suppression, there is a need to better understand the rights voters have when it's time to cast their ballot on November 6th.

For your benefit (yet again), I decided to examine this subject in detail. What’s cool is that I was able to find very useful information about voter rights in the US as well as relevant material from Elections Canada, the governing body in charge of national elections up north, for comparison purposes. We’ll get to the Canadian election system later.

The attorneys at Constangy Brooks & Smith, LLP, a firm specializing in labor law, have put together a nice little voter’s guide for the forthcoming US national elections.

This guide provides valuable material about voter rights for each state, such as how many hours an employee can use (paid or not) to vote on election day, or regulations proposed by state legislatures to minimize attempts by employers to coerce or intimidate employees to vote for a specific candidate.  As some of you may already know, we learned a few days ago that Romney suggested this tactic to a small group of business owners last summer.

Here’s the guide:


In the guide mentioned above, you’ll notice that in about 40% of American states, employees simply have no voting rights. Yes, nothing! For instance, they can't take time off to go to the polling station (if the employer refuses). Worse, in the majority of these states, employers can coerce or threaten their employees to vote for a particular candidate with no legal repercussions whatsoever. A perfect example is mogul David Siegel, who recently implied he'd be forced to fire employees if Obama is elected. The fact that this kind of appalling behavior is apparently legal is just astonishing.

Compare this significant lack of voter rights with those available to Canadians. Because of these rights, the Canadian election process is far more superior to the one in the US. Doubting me? Let me explain:

They still use paper ballots in Canada. Each ballot is counted one at a time by election officials and the counting procedure is simultaneously monitored by representatives from each political party in order to avoid fraudulent counts. How many times have we heard about potential fraud or computing errors with electronic voting machines in the US? No hanging chits in Canada.

The Canadian election process in Canada is not foolproof, but is much better than here, in my humble opinion.

Here’s the regulation for allowing employees time off to vote no matter where you live in Canada:

  • By law, qualified electors must have three consecutive hours to cast their vote on election day. If your hours of work do not allow for three consecutive hours to vote, your employer must give you time off.
  • For example, if you live in a riding where voting hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and you usually work from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., your hours of work will not allow three consecutive hours for voting. To give you three consecutive hours to vote, your employer could allow you to arrive late (at 12:30 p.m.), let you leave early (at 6:30 p.m.), or give you three hours off at some point during the work day.
  • Your employer has the right to decide when the time off will be given.
  • It is an offence for employers to fail to provide time off for voting if required under the Canada Elections Act.
  • It is also an offence for an employer to reduce an employee's pay where the employee has been provided time off to vote in accordance with the Act. The maximum penalty for violating these prohibitions is a fine of up to $1,000, three months imprisonment, or both.

Here’s another one, forbidding employer intimidation:

  • It is also an offence for an employer to use intimidation, undue influence, or any other means to interfere with the granting of time off to vote under the Canada Elections Act. The maximum penalty for violating this provision is a fine of up to $5,000, five years imprisonment, or both.

Although the law doesn’t specifically address a situation where an employer intimidates employees to vote for a specific candidate, I’m sure that Elections Canada would quickly investigate the company if such claims were made. When I lived in Canada, I never heard of any such cases. A quick search on Google found nothing either.

Voter ID laws, which are used to suppress votes in the US, have become increasingly popular as of late. In Canada too, they have an ID law. However, the law is actually used to encourage people to vote, while still maintaining a good control on who is allowed to cast a ballot.

And here’s how Canadians can legally vote at national and provincial elections:




Types of ID Needed to Vote in Canada

As illustrated in the figure, there are three options to demonstrate who you are when you arrive at the polling booth (see the link here for more details). It should be noted that two of the three options do not require the Canadian citizen to spend money on a form of identification, as opposed to how it’s done in the US. The latter is usually referred to as a poll tax.

In short, in Canada, every vote counts (there is no Electoral College) and the Government has put in place a system that ensures all Canadians can vote! How awesome is that?

There you have it, folks!

Now, go vote (for the good guy).


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Sigh. Well, sorry it's so confusingly different up there. Canada will catch up with the US at some point, I guess.

Something not mentioned here is the little matter of registering to vote so as to be put on the voters list.

One can, of course wait for the good folks who come around to register everyone or one can phone any political party and they'll send someone to take you to the office where you can register. (We don't register as supporting any political party up here). But if you're really lazy, you can wait until you do up your income tax in April. Right there on the tax forms that you file is a section that asks you, "Do you wish to have your information forwarded to Elections Canada for inclusion of your name on the voters list in your area." (or some such wording)

This gets your name on all municipal voters lists as well as provincial and federal lists. Easy, eh wot?

Kent: It may become this way eventually. Thanks to the current 'Conservative Party', they started to follow many of the "bad" initiatives that are currently being implemented here.

skypixieo: Thanks for providing additional information about ways to register. I don't recall if this is something new or I simply forgot it existed.
Here in Oregon it's all vote by mail. You get your ballot in the mail, vote at your leisure, and return it by mail. If you want to wait until the last minute, you can drop your ballot off on the night of the election at one of many collection sites. No standing in line, no need for time off from work. If a recount is needed, all the ballots are paper.
Mish: Very interesting about mailing in of ballots. I'm glad that where you live you have a paper ballot. Where I'm from, people still need to show up at polling stations.

You can vote prior to the election date, but only for a few days and, if I remember correctly, you need to swear under oath that you cannot vote on election day. I may be wrong about the "under oath" thing though, since it has been a long time since I voted there.
There are many alternatives to our present registration system, but the truth is one of our major parties tries to make registration and voting difficult if not impossible for a huge number of our citizens who might be inclined to vote for candidates of the other major party.

Election Day is treated as an afterthought in this country -- while millions upon millions get off from work to celebrate Columbus Day. Pray tell, what is there to celebrate about the man who led the onslaught on Native Americans and introduced slavery to the New World.

The idiocy of 50 different sets of rules to vote in national elections should have ended at the turn of the last century. I'm all for a picture ID being required to vote, but that needs to be implemented over time -- and it certainly shouldn't be a ploy to keep people from voting. The scum behind voter suppression should be publicly flogged before being imprisoned.

On the other hand, I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of requirement of political intelligence for voting -- say being able to name the three branches of government or the line of succession.

Election Day should be treated with reverence -- with far more reverence than the Sabbath. No one should have to work save for those in police, fire, medical, and emergency services -- and of course poll workers. Polls should be open from 8am to midnight, and all businesses save gas stations and public transportation should be closed during those hours.
Tom: You're absolutely right. Everything is made to make voting difficult. Compare that to Australia, where it is mandatory to vote. I believe you can get fined if you don't.
GOP voter suppression is one of those remnants from the old days when conservatives complained that too many people were allowed to vote. The term was Mass Democracy, which was a bad thing. It resulted in the New Deal, a thriving middle class and...gasp!...unions!

Like many things, the GOP's respect for democracy, founding principles, etc, are nothing but slogans. Like any political ideological movement does, they have arrived at the point of considering The Way too important and necessary to be upended by people voting. Those people are seeking dependency and evil and must be stopped.

We need a revolution of voters to take us into the future by going back to number 2 pencils and paper ballots. Our elections are a bad joke.
Paul: Excellent comment! I would add that more recently, they are using voting fraud as the reason for suppressing the vote, although the actual rate is almost not existent (proportionally speaking). Personally, I would prefer to see a very marginal fraud rate (with no impact on the elections) and include all legitimate voters than trying to eliminate the few fraudulent voters, but preventing several thousands citizens their right to vote.
Informative, Dom. Thanks for the info.

I was surprised to discover that in my purplish state, one-stop register-and-vote is possible in a window up to three days before an election. Pretty good. But the Canadian laws about being able to vote would be a great step forward.
It would be nice if our system could be more like that of Canada. But, it is a smaller country, with smaller districts (ridings) and a parliamentary system. With our history, federal system, and divisions of power, it was almost inevitable that voting in the US would be a messy business. There has been progress in a number of states and, hopefully, will be more.

In the meantime, try to make sure that everyone you know is aware of the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline run by the Election Protection program of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. People can call the hotline, as well as going to the web site at www.866ourvote.org. There is even a free iPhone app to help people.

I have been voting in Presidential elections since 1972, and I don't think I am being dramatic when I say that this is the most important election I can remember. The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties' visions of what constitutes a civil society and the role of government in maintaining a civil society is much greater than it has ever been. The economy's recovery from the Great Recession (as would be expected from the depth of the recession) still has a way to go and could easily be thwarted by bad policy decisions. With the social safety net already battered, the Republicans (who are really Libertarians) could actually destroy it. And on top of all that, we've had talking heads, as well as political leaders working for years to create bitter divisions and discourage reasonable discussion among voters.
All Canadians need now is to adopt proportional representation like they have in nearly all industrialized countries (except the US, UK and Canada).
Here's a link where people can donate $5 to help cover the costs of the 3rd party debate (they get no corporate funding - obviously).
They've already raised nearly $12,800 - and they have invited Romney and Obama to participate.
I do like the paper ballot method. I was shocked when I found that some states use machines with no audit trail. They spit out a result and you have to accept its result. Like Weird Al in I'm Fat:
When I go to get a shoeshine
I gotta take his word

And of course an independent Election Commission is needed. It was a massive conflict of interest when Bush the Lesser's Florida campaign manager wound up being in charge of the recount. It's the sort of thing one might expect in corrupt, fledgling democracies.
Rob: I’m glad you found the information useful. Hopefully, others will to. Very interesting about NC.

Sally: Thanks for your comment. I agree that the political systems are different, but I still think much more can be done to ensure everyone can vote. Similar to the recent “debates” about health care reform and what have should have been done: why not examine what’s done elsewhere and see what works and what doesn’t? I hope the rest of your message get read by many.

Dr. Bramhall: I understand what you’re saying. This is one aspect that I don’t like about the system up north. For others, in Canada, you vote for the party. Hence, you simultaneously vote for the national candidate and your local representative from the same party. In essence, you vote for your local representative and if he or she wins, it then adds to the tally of representatives (called seats; there are 308 seats). The party with the most seats wins the election, although it is possible to get a minority government.

More info here: Parliament of Canada

Abrawang: I agree. Very scary about relying on output of “black boxes.” I was told yesterday that Tagg Romney bought a company that makes these voting machines. I need to check into it.
Great piece, Kanuk. Let's hope everyone gets out there and votes.
Steve: Thanks! yes, I hope people go out and vote. We did last week.