Citizenship Muddle Could Trim Voter Lists

POSTED ON 31/07/06

Citizenship muddle could trim voter lists


An election-day headache looms for Toronto because as many as 300,000 residents may be ineligible to cast their vote on Nov. 13.

Next week, city officials expect to spell out measures to ease a problem that has bedevilled voters and candidates for years. “We want to ensure the integrity of the election,” says Greg Essensa, the city's elections director. “We don't want to disenfranchise any eligible voters.”

He is especially concerned that voter-list confusion could cause delays on election day, especially during the peak hours of 4 to 8 p.m.

City election officials need about one minute to process each confirmed voter, but need about five minutes to ensure the legitimacy of someone not on the list.

The problem arises because the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., a provincial agency that compiles the voter list, cannot confirm the Canadian citizenship of 300,000 residents — about 16 per cent of all voters. As a result, the number of eligible voters could be trimmed by 10 to 30 per cent, depending on the incidence of immigrants or tenants in each ward.

For candidates, the reduction has a direct bearing on election spending limits. Under the rules, the mayor can spend $7,500, plus 70 cents a voter, and council candidates can spend $5,000, plus 70 cents a voter.

This week, council adopted a motion by deputy mayor Sandra Bussin to ask the province to adjust the spending limit formula to 81 cents a voter. Her motion also calls for city clerk Ulli Watkiss to report to the incoming council on “other options” to clean up the voter list.

“We are looking for a remedy to allow the city to do its own enumeration,” said Ms. Bussin, who cited perennial election-year problems in her ward with residents of entire apartment buildings left off the list.

“Our tenants are losing their voice and right to vote,” she said.

Mr. Essensa said that, as a first step, the city will write to voters who are at risk of being struck off the list, giving them an opportunity to confirm their citizenship using a declaration form provided by the city. Officials are also trying to get the word out to immigrant community groups and media to alert voters.

A revised voter list will be published Sept. 5. But voters can still get themselves on the list up to and including election day by swearing a declaration of their Canadian citizenship. Eligible voters must also be 18 or older and live in the city as a tenant or property owner.