The Canadian Election: Why Voting Is Easier Than in the U.S.

People line up to vote at a polling station at Trinity Community Rec Center for Canada's 43rd general election October 21, 2019 Origin of Picture, Image Source: Getty Images

In what should come as no surprise, Canadians are excellent at waiting patiently and politely in line to cast their ballots at election time.

Voters in Canada's general election on September 20 aren't sweating it one bit, while their southern neighbors are still fighting over voting rights and the outcome of the 2020 election.

Voter turnout in Canada (62% vs. 56%) was higher than in the United States (56%), likely due to factors such as the prevalence of advanced voting, mail-in ballots, and federally-run elections. data from Pew Research's examination of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the 2019 Canadian federal election show

Here are some of the ways in which Canadian voters enjoy greater convenience than their American counterparts.

One of the most noticeable distinctions between Canadian and American voting systems is that all federal elections in Canada are managed by a single, non-partisan federal body called Elections Canada, while in the United States, voting is handled on a state-by-state basis. As a result, a voter in Nova Scotia and a voter in Nunavut will be using the same system.

The right to vote varies greatly from one US state to the next.

Professor of political science at Canada's University of Western Ontario Matthew Lebo, who focuses on the American political system, argues that the petty partisanship that he sees so often stems from the rules' complexity.

Elections Canada, he told the BBC, "is non-partisan and they work hard to be non-partisan."

Unlike in Europe, "in the States, every state is doing it on their own, they are most assuredly not non-partisan." "

It's in part because of this that the 2020 US presidential election is shaping up to be so contentious, with a few Republican state governments trying to undo the presidency's victory for the Democrats.

It's the party leaders and the prime minister who get the most attention in a Canadian election, but there are actually 338 separate races for each of the country's federal ridings (constituencies).

Elections Canada is often accused of favoritism despite being managed by bureaucrats rather than party officials.

Canadians typically spend no more than a few minutes at the polls.

There have been reports of 90-minute waits outside of early voting centers due to the pandemic, and staffing levels could be an issue on September 20th.

Although lines may be long, they are unlikely to be as long as they were in the United States in 2020, where some polling places reported waiting times of up to 11 hours.

Lack of poll workers and voting machines were major factors in long wait times, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. To reduce wait times, many states in the United States have recently begun allowing early voting and mail-in ballots.

During the pandemic, many local governments rethought their policies regarding polling places out of concern for the spread of coronavirus, but others did not.

Renan Levine, an American political scientist at the University of Toronto, says that factors like long lines can affect voter participation. Voting, he says, is a "low-cost, low-reward" behavior, meaning that most people can do it with little effort, but they don't do it because they enjoy it.

Making changes to the scales in favor of or against voting (i.e., e long periods of inactivity, the possibility of catching Covid) or increasing the incentive (i.e. e If the election is high-profile and the stakes are high, a voter's decision to vote may be swayed more than usual.

"I feel good exercising my citizenship rights," he said, "sometimes the cost of 'oh let's walk over to the polling place in my neighborhood' is outweighed."

Over the years, early voting has become increasingly common in Canada. In Canada's last election, held in October 2019, nearly five million people voted early. Elections Canada reports a 20% increase in early voting, with an estimated 5 million people casting ballots before polling stations opened. Over 8 million Canadians voted in the election.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada will accept absentee ballots until September 20.

Dr. Lebo spent twenty years in the United States studying and researching politics. Despite the fact that this is his area of expertise, he claims that, as a Canadian, he was astounded by the measures taken by political leaders to suppress the vote.

Origin of Picture, Credit: LightRocket/Getty Images

He expressed surprise at the lack of a reaction to efforts to restrict voting rights, stating, "I'm surprised by how brazen efforts are to make it harder for some people to vote and how okay with that many courts are."

People have pointed to laws like Georgia's that make it illegal to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote within a certain distance from polling sites as examples of voter suppression.

For the Georgia GOP, the rule is necessary to prevent foreign interference in elections. Distributing food and water near a polling place is legal, but it is against the law to engage in campaign activity.

The vouching system was abolished and the right-wing Fair Elections Act of 2014 prohibited Elections Canada from actively encouraging voters to cast ballots. which allowed voters to verify the identities of their fellow voters at the same polling place by presenting their own identification.

Election officials voiced concern that this would disenfranchise voters, and Democrats and Liberals accused the Conservatives of trying to keep people from voting. When the Liberals took office, they repealed many parts of the act.

American voting lines are long, and so are the ballots. Americans typically vote for their president, congressperson, senator, local officials, and referendums all in the same day. It's so democratic in one Vermont town that even the dogcatcher is up for election.

Most Canadians only cast their ballots for their local representative in the House of Commons during federal elections. It is a common misconception that Americans elect their judges and police chiefs at the polls.

This divergence reflects different conceptions of democracy in the two countries.

Mr. Lebo explained: "Part of it is the idea that the more opportunities you have to vote, the more democratic it is."

It's not just the right to vote that makes a democracy strong, though. Having a voice and seeing that one's votes translate into the policies one supports is at the heart of this issue. And the United States is particularly bad at it. "

Disenfranchisement, the practice of denying voting rights to a specific group of people, has a long history in both the United States and Canada.

When the United States was first established, only white males with sufficient property holdings were allowed to cast ballots. Even after a century, when Canada was formally united as a nation, not much had altered.

It wasn't until 1918 that women finally won the right to vote. Between the years of 1920 and 1948, Asian Canadians in British Columbia were not allowed to cast ballots in provincial elections. For almost a century after being denied the franchise in 1934, First Nations members were not allowed to vote unless they renounced their Indian status. This restriction did not apply to Inuit until 1950.

Since 2004, when a landmark court case occurred, all Canadian prisoners have had the right to vote, something that is not possible in the vast majority of US states.

Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African Americans in the United States were denied the right to vote. The Supreme Court invalidated a law that had given the federal government control over elections in many Southern states in 2013. Mr. Lebo claimed that, in the years following, voter suppression tactics, particularly those targeting African-Americans, who disproportionately support the Democratic Party, have flourished.

Canada has always had its own issues, but "the arc of justice is slowly but surely rising" with each passing year and election. Mr. Lebo said, "Not in the USA."

In contrast to the United States, where only two parties exist, Canada has a vibrant multi-party system. Several other parties have had elected members of parliament, but only the Conservatives and the Liberals have ever formed a government.

Image credit, Getty Images/Toronto Star

According to Mr. Lebo, "in Canada everyone seems to have a party that fits them ideologically really, really closely."

While this may lead to more policy variety, it also increases the likelihood of vote-splitting as people try to choose between the various political parties that exist on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

Mr. Lebo argued that despite the differences in ideology between Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Manchin, the American Democrats do a better job of uniting their party.

Democrats, or at least their leaders, "understand fundamentally" that the party will lose power if it is unable to keep liberals and moderates together. "

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