The StarPhoenix, Thursday, October 16, 2008
Orchard criticizes voting process
Identification requirement problematic, candidate says
By David Hutton
David Orchard and his Liberal campaign team say
something must be done to smooth the voting process for
aboriginal and rural voters, many of whom were shut out
at the polls Tuesday because they lacked proper
identification, weren't enumerated or were told to vote
at distant polling stations.
Orchard, who was defeated by Conservative Rob Clarke
in the northern Saskatchewan riding of
Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, said a requirement
that voters must show identification -- including proof
of an address -- posed a huge challenge on election
night. Many First Nations voters showed up without
government-issued identification or a recognized address
complete with their name and street number, he said.
Even those who did show up were intimidated by large
signs outside polling stations, which reminded voters
they needed identification with a street address.
"I just don't understand the reason for a street
address," Orchard said. "It's entirely unacceptable.
Most rural people and aboriginal people don't have a
street address, so they simply turn around right at the
door. They'd read the sign and turn around. . . . This
is Canada; you'd think we could do better."
Parliament voted to amend the federal Elections Act
almost two years ago as a way of stopping voter fraud.
But for some aboriginal people, their only address is
the name of their reserve, Orchard said. Desnethe
received one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country
at 45.9 per cent. A few of the northernmost reserves had
turnouts of less than 20 per cent.
The voter turnout this election was the lowest in
Canadian history, according to the preliminary figures
from Elections Canada. Only 59.1 per cent -- 13.8
million out of 23.4 million -- of eligible voters cast a
ballot, breaking the previous low from the 2004
Serge Fleyfel, a spokesperson for Elections Canada,
said complaints are assessed after each election to try
to make the system run more smoothly. Elections Canada
worked with aboriginal communities to make them aware of
the new rules, Fleyfel said. The agency faxed 1,000
flyers to aboriginal businesses and ran a widespread
advertising campaign that targeted reserves.
"We will, of course, try to find ways to improve," he
At Flying Dust First Nation, deputy returning officer
Della Aubichon said around 25 voters showed up without
identification and asked those volunteering at the
polling station to waive the requirement or vouch for
The voter turnout on the reserve was 33 per cent.
"A lot of people said, 'You know me, so don't worry
about it,' " Aubichon said. "It would have been easier
if we worked at another reserve where everybody doesn't
know each other."
Polling stations gave mixed signals, said Grant
Orchard, David Orchard's campaign manager. Some
returning officers said the voter card was fine on its
own, or with a treaty card, while others were strict in
requiring valid identification, even when election
volunteers knew the voter.
"It was a mess," he said.
Leon Charles, a band councillor at Grandmother's Bay,
said several people on the reserve were sent to vote
more than 50 kilometres away because of the location of
their post office box, a problem that repeated itself at
many northern reserves. Dozens of people in
Grandmother's Bay weren't enumerated and dozens more,
frustrated with the identification process, turned
around and went home when they were asked to produce
valid identification, he said. Only 58 of the 150
eligible voters on the reserve cast a ballot.
"People are so frustrated," Charles said. "We're not
being listened to to begin with, so this just makes it
Kenneth Thomas, the former chief of the Witchekan
Lake First Nation, gave an impassioned speech following
Orchard's defeat Tuesday night. He said the problem lies
in the enumeration process. Most reserves in the
province are dealing with overcrowding so hundreds of
people don't end up on the voting list, which is
"With my experience in talking with First Nations
people in our community and in other communities,
they're not aware of the issues in government," he said.
"The government has segregated us . . . and because of
that our First Nations people didn't take the election