Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Canada: Will they have to make a pinky promise, too?

Veiled voters must swear oath.

Canadians who wear coverings over their faces will not be required to remove them to vote if they swear a special oath to affirm their identity and eligibility, a spokesman for Elections Canada said on Tuesday.

"We offer them a choice," John Enright said of the administrative procedure, which has been in place without incident for the seven federal byelections held since September 2007.

The directive from chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand appears to deviate from the existing Canada Elections Act, which has no requirement for federal voters to show their faces.

"He's simply reminding them of the authority to ensure the eligibility of voters," Enright said of the procedure, while adding people would only be prevented from voting if they refuse to swear the oath after turning down requests to show their faces.

The issue caused a stir last autumn on Parliament Hill ahead of three federal byelections in Quebec.

Last September, Harper accused Elections Canada of subverting the will of Parliament by permitting Muslim women to wear niqabs or burkas while voting, saying it was at odds with federal legislation passed earlier that year.

But at the time, Mayrand countered that the act does not contain an absolute visual recognition requirement, noting that about 80,000 voters cast their ballots by mail in the last federal election.

The Conservatives introduced a bill proposing changes to the act that would require all voters to show their faces at polling stations, but the bill was stalled in Parliament and died when the election was called.