The Battle of the Ballots

A description of the electoral machinery which will enable five million voters to record their verdict on July 28

A. G. DEXTER July 15 1930

The Battle of the Ballots

A description of the electoral machinery which will enable five million voters to record their verdict on July 28

A. G. DEXTER July 15 1930

The Battle of the Ballots


A description of the electoral machinery which will enable five million voters to record their verdict on July 28

FIVE million electors of Canada today are sitting as judges, weighing arguments, considering evidence, listening to Mackenzie King and R. B. Bennett and a legion of lesser orators, trying to decide how they will vote on the twenty-eighth of this month.

To most of the five million settlement of the issue involves simply the making of a mark on a piece of paper and the slipping of that piece of paper into a tin box— business which can easily be transacted in thirty seconds.

In the aggregate, however, settlement of the issue is an immensely complicated operation involving months of preparation and the scientific co-ordination of the efforts of thousands of workers.

Unthinkingly most of us accept a general election as a matter of course, or as a more or less unpleasant experience which must be endured about once in four years. One votes, or declines to vote, as one chooses. Twelve hours later the verdict is known and voters and non-voters alike settle down to business with something approaching a sigh of relief, reasonably assured that their usual routine will not be disturbed again for another four years.

As a matter of fact, however, the successful marshalling of modern Democracy on the march to the polls is an amazing feat of organization.

Consider it for a moment. Each individual of the five million must vote under his or her own name. The mere collection of five million names is a colossal task in itself. Then, within the brief space of one day, the millions

must be assembled in orderly battalions at the polling booths. Another huge task. Then, the ballots have to be counted; and such is efficiency of the machinery devised for the purpose that by sun-up the following day the result is heralded far and wide on the front pages of the newspapers.

Scattered, as it is, across a territory 3,000 miles in width, the mere fact that the machine works at all is something to wonder at. That it works so efficiently as to be, for all practical purposes, fool-proof, is something to marvel at.

In the last analysis, a mere handful of civil servants with headquarters at Ottawa are responsible for the direction of the entire operation. And yet small as is the guiding force, one hears of no scandals, no slips, no uncogged wheels.

And in the present election this is all the more remarkable because the pending decision of the people is to be registered under a new election act, an act revised, re-written, improved out of all recognition. The parlia-

ment just dead, as a dying act, provided that its successor should stand more sturdily as the actual creation of a majority of the citizens of Canada than did any of the fifteen parliaments preceding it. The electors are being invited to the polls this month in hugely augmented numbers and there is every reason to expect a vote of unprecedented proportions.

It Takes Real Money

TVECORDING the vote is going to cost money, real money. Canadians are going to pay more for this election than any election of the past. It will cost at least two million dollars to find out if Mr. King or Mr. Bennett is to be in control of the seventeenth parliament and this figure includes only the legitimate cost of preparing for and recording the vote. If one also included the expenditures of parties and candidates, the total would be swollen to somewhere around nine million dollars, almost one dollar for every man, woman and child in the Dominion.

In common parlance we call the process a “general” election. This is not an accurate description. In fact, there are 243 elections, with two constituencies electing two members each, thus making the total membership of the House of Commons 245 members. An election is brought about by the issuing of a viceregal writ, ordering that an election in a particular constituency be held upon a certain day. When parliament is dissolved, what happens is that 243 writs are issued simultaneously, each one calling for an election upon one and the same day.


But, you ask, why the exact numher? Why are there 243 constituencies in Canada, no more, no less?

That, of course, is the genesis of the election machinery. When the Dominion was formed, the Fathers of Confederation provided that representation in the House of Commons should grow with the country and that there should never he any douht {is to the numher of elected representatives. They decreed in the British North America Act that a census should he taken every ten years and that redistribution of seats should follow each census. This redistribution is worked out in this way. The Province of Quebec is to have sixty-four seats, never less and never more. By dividing sixty-four into the population of Quebec, as revealed by the last census, the unit representation number is obtained. Then this unit number is divided into the population of each province and in this way the number of seats to which each is entitled is obtained.

As provinces, other than Quebec, grow, their representation in parliament grows also; if the population of Quebec wanes, the unit of representation diminishes.

The present parliament is based upon the census of 1921, which added ten seats scattered throughout the English-speaking provinces. The 1931 census is now under way and there will be another redistribution before the next general election when there will probably be 255 seats in the eighteenth parliament.

Starting the Machinery

SINCE election machinery, as a rule, operates but once in four years, excluding by-elections, it is to be wondered that efficiency and smoothness of operation are retained.

This is due to the fact that a permanent headquarters staff is in charge. Colonel O. M. Biggar, of Ottawa, grandson of Oliver Mowatt, one-time premier of Ontario, might almost be said to be the creator of the present election act. For many years he was chief electoral officer and when he retired a few years ago, he was succeeded by Jules Castonguay who had been his assistant. Mr.

Castonguay, a French-Canadian, is the present chief electoral officer, the man at the throttle of the election machinery. But in the present contest, Mr. Biggar has been retained in an advisory capacity and will superintend the operations of the department.

It was Mr. Castonguay, however, who pulled the lever which put the machinery in operation shortly before midnight on May 30. The sixteenth parliament having been dissolved a few' hours before, Mr. Castonguay was handed the w'rits for a new parliament and acted upon the royal instructions. *

He mailed each writ to the returning officer in charge of the particular constituency. In BO doing, he took advantage of an important change made in the election act. Under the new act a permanent election organization throughout the Dominion had been built up. In the good old days the various returning officers—-there is one in charge of each constituency— were patronage appointments, and the government in charge of the election machinery, therefore, made the appointments, choosing, as a rule, staunch party supporters. In this way the dice always w’ere loaded against the Opposition. Beginning in 1929, Mr. Castonguay began the selection of permanent returning officers and was unhampered in his appointments by political influence. The officers, therefore, who received the w'rits are not temporary but permanent officials and will continue to control elections for life. They are removable only for cause -a condition which places a greater premium upon fairness and impartiality as between the various political parties.

The writs proper are quaint old-w'orld documents, couched somewhat in the phraseology of use in ancient days. They read:

“Whereas, by the advice of our Privy Council for Canada, we have ordered holden at Ottawa, we com-

mand you that notice of the time and place of election being duly given, you do cause election to be made, according to the law, of a member to serve in the House of Commons for Canada, for the electoral district of (blank).”

In this way the business of the election is begun. It is up to each returning officer to prepare voters’ lists, arrange polling districts and polls, see to it that no elector is molested while going to or from a polling booth, and, when all is over, to count up the ballots and declare the winner. His method of declaring the winner is simplicity itself. He merely makes a declaration in keeping with the writ he has received, and on com-

pletion of the counting forwards it to the chief electoral officer at Ottawa.

But this is not nearly as simple as it sounds. In the last election 4,665,381 names were on the voters’ lists and 3,273,062 votes were cast. This year there probably will be 5,500,000 names on the lists and the number of ballots marked will certainly exceed 4,000,000. This increase in the active electorate alone is sufficient to wipe out the difference in strength between Liberals and Conservatives. The new vote will determine which party shall rule at Ottawa.

The task of getting these millions identified, listed and typed on the voters’ lists is most difficult. Here again the procedure has been radically changed by the

new act. The constituencies are divided into rural and urban. An urban seat is one embracing a city of 10,000 population or more.

In rural constituencies the old method of compiling lists will still be followed. Each returning officer will appoint a registrar who will draw up a preliminary list of the voters. This list will be posted in public places throughout the riding, and after everyone has had an opportunity of finding out if he is included, courts of revision will be held at which additional names will be added and, where it can be shown that names have been improperly included in the preliminary lists before they come up for revision, others will be struck off.

In urban constituencies, a new method of compiling lists is being followed. Instead of preparing preliminary lists, posting them and then going through the long and tedious and none too efficient business of revision, the state undertakes to make a complete census of voters in each seat. The returning officers in urban seats will appoint enumerators. These enumerators will work in pairs, one representing each major political party, and a house-to-house canvass will be made. Subsequently the lists compiled by the enumerators will be revised by courts of revision, but it is not expected many changes will be necessary.

Urban voters’ lists, therefore, are now prepared with greater care than ever before, and because of this, the new act withdraws one privilege heretofore extended to the city elector. In the past, if a man neglected to have his name placed on the list and desired to vote when election day arrived, he could go to a polling booth and do so. He was required to take an oath to the effect that he was a qualified voter. This has been a grave weakness in the election machinery in the past. Manipulators have exploited this provision to “plug” votes and in some constituencies hundreds of illegal ballots have been cast. Both parties have sinned in this regard. With the new and complete lists, however, this privilege has been abolished in urban constituencies and on July 28, if your name is not on the list you will be refused a ballot. Of course you may find you have been impersonated: you may arrive at the polling booth to discover someone else already has voted in your name. If so you will be entitled to take oath as to your identity and will be given a ballot.

Who Can Vote?

WHAT qualifies one for the franchise?

1. The elector must have reached his twenty-first birthday.

2. He or she must be a British subject by birth or naturalization, a resident in Canada for at least twelve months, and a resident in the elec-r toral district at the date of the issue of the election writ.

The election act defines a British subject as follows:

“Everyone is a British subject in Canada who

1. Was bom in any of His Majesty’s dominions or on a British ship, no matter what was the nationality of his parents, or:

2. Was born elsewhere of a father who, at the time of the child’s birth, was a British subject, or:

3. Has been personally granted a certificate of naturalization under any statute of Canada or under the Imperial Naturalization Act in any other of His Majesty’s dominions, or:

4. Has had his name included in a certificate of naturalization granted to a parent under the Imperial Naturalization Act in Canada or in any other of His Majesty’s dominions, or:

5. Is the wife or unmarried widow of a natural-born British subject or of a naturalized British subject, or:

6. Is the child of a person naturalized in Canada otherwise than under the Imperial Naturalization act.”

The following are debarred from voting:

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The Battle of the Ballots

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The chief electoral officer and his assistant, judges, Indians ordinarily resident on reservation who did not serve in the war, prisoners undergoing punishment, persons restrained of liberty of movement or deprived from the management of property by reason of mental disease, persons employed for pay or reward in connection with the election.

The new act makes certain important exceptions to the residence qualifications. These qualifications are waived in so far as school teachers, students, clergymen, military and naval men are concerned. They may vote in their home constituencies regardless of whether or not they were resident there on the day the election writs were issued.

The Final Act

ONCE the lists are completed and printed there remains only the final act in the election drama. Nomination day is held either one or two weeks prior to the ballotting. Candidates, to be nominated, must file papers with the returning officers on nomination day, containing the signatures of ten qualified electors and a marked cheque for $200 or the cash equivalent. If the ballotting

reveals a candidate so badly beaten that he failed to poll one half the votes of the winner, this money deposit is forfeit to the Crown. Otherwise it is returned to him.

Immediately following nomination day, the ballots are printed:'the stage isset. Electors trooping to the polls find all in readiness, the machinery operating smoothly.

But apart from the task of preparing for the voting, the law is heavily armed against election crookedness. Candidates cannot pay for carrying voters to the polls. cannot supply flags, ribbons, favors or labels to their followers; cannot buy votes or pay voters to abstain from voting; cannot attempt to influence a voter through fear, fraud, violence, the supply of food or drink, or suggestions of benefit to follow. All handbills, dodgers, placards or posters must bear the name of the printer and the person or party responsible for publication.

If any of these acts are committed, the offender is liable to severe penalties possibly two years in penitentiary.

These are the conditions imposed by law to make possible a clear answer to the question: “Who shall rule the Seven teenth Parliament?”