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EDITORIAL: A threat to privacy

An election official hands back to a voter her marked ballot to place in the ballot box so she can cast her vote for the federal election at a polling station on Toronto's Ward Island on May 2, 2011. — Canadian Press file photo
An election official hands back to a voter her marked ballot to place in the ballot box so she can cast her vote at a polling station. — file photo

Islanders need to know if reasonable security measures are in place to protect voter information from unauthorized collection, use or disclosure.

Privacy commissioner Karen Rose is investigating whether Elections P.E.I. is over-stepping its bounds by providing updated lists to political parties on people who have voted election day. Ms. Rose obviously has concerns whether Elections P.E.I. is on sound footing with this new policy. There are sufficient reasons to proceed with caution.

The privacy commissioner must fully examine the issue; and report back that either all’s well, or suggest ways to clarify and tighten rules and regulations. Islanders need to know if reasonable security measures are in place to protect voter information from unauthorized collection, use or disclosure.

This is not about a voters’ list, which is compiled and provided to registered political parties. This is a list of electors who have voted – almost in real time - on election day. There is a big difference.

RELATED: Elections P.E.I. facing investigation from privacy commissioner over lists of who voted

Elections P.E.I. is now providing political parties with access to the electronic lists of individuals who have voted, along with the elector’s ID, name and address. Those lists are updated every 15 minutes on election day. It raises concerns about the security of that on-line portal - who has access and how the information is shared.

The secret ballot is the basis of our democracy. It’s where every citizen is equal in importance. A citizen has a civic duty to cast a ballot – which we hope they do. But they also have the right to stay home. They have an expectation of privacy and not have representatives of political parties show up at the door.

The duties of the deputy returning officer and poll clerk on election day are about enabling a qualified voter to cast a secret ballot. At best, the legislation is vague on allowing poll officials to provide updates to political parties on who has cast a ballot - which traditionally has been the job of party scrutineers.

Providing updated lists is increasingly common in other provinces but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Elections P.E.I. confirms that it provided that service in the byelection last fall in Charlottetown-Parkdale. And we all remember the excruciating delays in getting ballots counted and reported after the polls closed. Is there a connection?

It’s true that smaller parties benefit from voter updates, and that this system allows parties to better focus their efforts on turning out their supporters on election day. The Greens and Liberals might brag how the lists were helpful during the November byelection, yet only 60.3 per cent of voters cast a ballot.

It’s the job of the legislative assembly to make changes to the Elections Act after public debate - and not for Elections P.E.I. to make such decisions on sensitive privacy issues.

Providing voters’ personal information to political parties is even more concerning when those parties are not covered under privacy legislation. Parties seem OK with putting their own best interests ahead of individual voters.

Ms. Rose must weigh all the arguments; and ensure the privacy of voters is protected both inside and outside the polling booth.

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