Secret Ballot

ART: Yellow background, green foreground; Modern take on an old style telephone, near the elevator at the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco

When I answer the phone and hear that the caller is a Bot (electronic robot), I usually hang up. But this isn’t normal life right now, it’s election time in Ontario.

There is legislation in place to protect citizens from automated telemarketing calls and spam, but political parties are exempt. (Funny how that works.)

So far, my house has received four – count them – FOUR – automated calls from the Conservative Party.

[And none from any other party.]

Yesterday I was called by the Conservative Party Phone Poll Bot. It wanted me to tell it who I would vote for, and it ran through the list of parties, expecting me to push the corresponding number of the party I support. I didn’t.

In these days of identity theft, when we are hounded by telemarketers, as we drift on oceans of spam, I don’t give information to live human beings on the phone, and certainly not to a bot.

The automated Conservative Poll didn’t allow me to choose “None of the above” or “none of your business.” So I didn’t push any buttons. But then the phone bot thanked me for participating and disconnected.

So what did it count my abstention as?

An Ottawa Sun story cites an Abacus Data poll alleging the Conservatives have 41% of decided voters, the Liberals at 32% and the NDP 20%.

This poll was answered by just over a thousand people, which sounds like a lot until you consider Ontario’s population exceeds thirteen million. That is a TINY sample.

Through a chain link fence in an East End Toronto waterfront  parkinglot

I Hate Polls

One reason I hate polls is that they can be skewed to prove almost anything. If polls told the absolute truth, why would we need to bother with the inconvenience or expense of elections?

Another thing no one ever even talks about is the fact that anyone can lie to a pollster.

Some say that poll results fluctuate depending on when they are held. On September 14th The Mark did an article about the results of two polls from the same day. The poll trumpeted by the Toronto Sun boasted the PC party has “a nine-point lead over the Liberals” while the Toronto Star proclaimed “the PCs are polling in third place in Toronto, well behind the Liberals and NDP.”

Depending on who you ask as well as what you ask, a good pollster can get the exact results they want. Polls could be used to obtain valuable feedback, but they are seem to be used as a marketing tool.

Used in this way, propaganda polls do a great deal of damage to what passes for democracy in Canada. Many people hear the majority is going to vote for this party or that, and they change the way they vote.

strategic voting

Canada needs electoral reform so bad that most of us who haven’t given up on voting altogether spend most of our energy trying to figure out how to beat the system. We get pelted with political ads and told how we should strategically vote to get sort of what we want. Strategic voting is the order of the day in the vain hope that our votes might actually count for something.

Many Canadians have been convinced if we vote “strategically” (i.e., not for the candidate we want to elect) there is a better chance to stave off the other party’s bogeyman. But, of course, in a first past the post system, we will never get what we want if we don’t vote for it.


As bad as our electoral system is, one of the few protections we have is a secret ballot.

In a first-past-the-post system, even when we get a so-called majority government, only a fraction of the citizens actually voted for that government. (Canada’s current federal “majority government” received votes from only about a quarter of eligible voters.) The theory is that once elected, all Canadians are supposed to be represented by that government. However in a 2001 scandal Canadians were faced with the fact that is not actually the case. A legally blind 81-year-old Canadian WWII Veteran named Jim Baxter appealed to Liberal MP Tom Wappel for help in getting the veteran’s benefits to which he was entitled. This is the basic assistance due to any constituent, but MP Tom Wappel sent Mr. Baxter a nasty letter instead.

“According to my records, you were a past supporter of mine, yet it seems that in this past election you supported the Canadian Alliance. How is that you are writing me for help if you did not think enough of my abilities to justify voting for me?”

~ MP Tom Wappel, CTV: MP who scolded blind war veteran relents

This is precisely why we have a SECRET ballot.

Anyone naive enough to tell a political party who they will vote for could well suffer the consequences.

Who we vote for is secret, as a democratic protection.  It protects us from them.

balancing act

The government is big and powerful, citizens are small and weak. The government’s vast powers range from deprivation of liberty to denial of assistance. We lowly citizens have but a single super power: we can vote.

A secret ballot ensures that we do not suffer repercussions for voting “the wrong way.”

We are under absolutely no obligation to tell a polling company, a political party, or even our mother who we will vote for. Just asking us is an invasion of privacy.

X is the symbol for Elections Ontario

Think how much cheaper the election process would be if we dispensed with the secret ballot nonsense. Instead of going behind the cardboard barrier to mark our “x” we could just tell the official who we’re voting for. Of course, if you want to vote Conservative and your boss supports the NDP and she’s standing in line behind you, well, you might find yourself looking for work. Or if you support the Ontario Socialist Party and your doctor is a Liberal your treatment just might not be the same. Or if you are a small business owner, and you vote against the party that sweeps into power, you might just find yourself being audited. Over and over again.

Funny. I was just called by the Liberal Party.

At least it was a real human being. But nonetheless, he wanted to know who we would support if an election were called today. When I told him we never give out personal information over the phone he promised that if I answered the question, he could mark my answer “not disclosed.”

The letter  “ X ”

I had to insist that who I will vote for is none of his party’s business. He still didn’t get it.

So I asked him if he’d heard of the infamous Tom Wappel. He hadn’t, of course.  But then if he had, would he have admitted it to me? By the end of the conversation, I still don’t think he understood why it is even a problem. But it is.

They act as though they have a right to know.   They don’t.

It is none of their business.

Because it’s our secret.

[Telephone photo art by Trace Meek, and licensed for reuse with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License


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