August 2012 Newsletter – Engaging Citizens, AGM, Gag Law, Internet Voting & More

Dear Democratic Reform Supporters:
We hope you’ve been having a wonderful summer.  As our thoughts turn towards fall activities, we have several exciting upcoming events to share with you.
Save the Date!  Announcing Our Next E-volving Democracy Dialogue on ‘Engaging Citizens’, Together With Our AGM
We are particularly excited to let you know that we’ve confirmed the date for our second E-volving Democracy Dialogue which will be held on Saturday, October 27th in Vancouver (likely 2-4:30pm).  The topic will be ‘Engaging Citizens’, and we’ll be looking at some fascinating models for giving people more meaningful ways to get involved in political processes.  We expect to have speakers from the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, the California Citizens Assembly Foundation (their website just went live this past week – check it out!), and the Fraser Institute (Dr. Mark Milke will speak about the Swiss referendum model – see his article about this).  We would like to broadcast this meeting via the internet, so if you have appropriate technical expertise and would like to volunteer to set this up for us, please let us know.
AGM Announcement;  Self-Nominations Invited for Board of Directors
Immediately following the Dialogue, we will hold a short Annual General Meeting at which we will elect our Board of Directors.  Fair Voting BC is governed by a group of ten volunteer directors drawn from all around the province and from all partisan backgrounds (including non-partisans) who meet by teleconference one evening per month (1-2 hours).  We are currently soliciting self-nominations for these positions.  If you are enthusiastic about working to bring about important democratic reforms in BC, we’d love to have you consider joining us – to learn more, please send us a note.
Fair Voting BC Submits Argument to BC Court of Appeal in Gag Law Reference Case
Last month, we told you that the Attorney General referred the BC’s government amendments restricting third party election advertising (the so-called ‘Gag Law’) to the Court of Appeal for a ruling on their constitutionality.  Fair Voting BC was granted intervenor status, and we recently submitted our argument to the court (read our submission here).  In it, we argued that since the purpose of the law is to prevent the wealthy from dominating public discourse, it is unconstitutional to interfere with the activities of small entities, specifically non-wealthy individuals, non-profits and charities.  By not providing a workable definition of non-wealthy entities and by failing to distinguish between election advertising and issue advocacy, we claim the government’s law represents an unconstitutional infringement on the activities of small organizations.
We expect to hear responses from the Attorney General and the Amicus this coming week, and the case will be heard in court from September 10th-12th.  The case is open to the public, so we invite anyone who is interested to attend (10am-4pm each day in the Vancouver Courthouse).  If anyone would like to serve as an official observer for Fair Voting BC, please let us know so that we can schedule you in.
BC Initiates Internet Voting Review;  Fair Voting BC Urges Caution
Earlier this month, Attorney General Shirley Bond asked Elections BC to convene an independent panel of experts to consider the potential for use of internet voting in British Columbia.  Bond argued that internet voting could potentially improve accessibility and convenience, though the deputy chief electoral officer, Nola Western, admitted that internet voting had not increased voter turnout in those Canadian cities where it has been tried.
Fair Voting BC believes that internet voting is the wrong answer to the wrong question.  If the central question is how to improve democratic engagement, a much better step for governments to take would be to provide meaningful mechanisms for citizens to participate in initiating and reviewing proposed legislation;  online processes could certainly play a significant role in such initiatives.  And, of course, we should adopt a new voting system that would ensure that our votes are accurately translated into legislative seats.
Internet voting may sound attractive, but voting online is much harder than banking online – with banking, you can always check your balance, but with voting, our ballot is supposed to be secret, which means the link between the ballot and our identity as a voter must be intentionally broken, which makes it practically impossible to verify correct ballot handling.  All professional computer science organizations that have taken a stand on internet voting (as well as some online voting service providers) have opposed the use of internet voting for high-stakes public elections.  As the review gets underway this September, Fair Voting BC will be seeking to appear before the panel to argue that our highest priority should be to safeguard the integrity of BC’s elections.
(Note:  earlier this month, the NDP dropped its investigation into who was responsible for the Denial of Service attack on their online leadership vote last spring;  there are no reliable estimates for how many voters were unable to vote because of that attack).
International Democracy Week
In honour of the United Nations International Day of Democracy, Elections Canada and Fair Vote Canada will each be hosting a series of special events during Democracy Week (September 15-22).  We invite you to check out their websites to see what’s happening (FVC, EC).  Last year, Fair Voting BC invited our supporters to host a video night ( and provided a long list of movie suggestions.  If you’re interested in hosting such an event this year, please let us know and we’ll help you get the word out to fellow democratic reform supporters in your area.
The Small Donor Revolution Won’t Be Televised – Smart, Creative Ideas About Campaign Financing
The Huffington Post recently published a fascinating article on how New York City has created incentives for political parties and candidates to reach out to a more diverse set of donors.  The idea is quite simple – the city provides a 6-to-1 match on donations up to $175.  A 2010 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows what a dramatic difference this multiple match on small donations has made: it has led to more competition, more small donors, more impact from small contributions, more grass roots campaigning, and more citizen participation in campaigns.  All this, while simultaneously reducing the influence of big money in general and corporate money in particular.  Time to consider something similar for Canada?
New Zealand Reviews Mixed Member Proportional Voting System
Following last November’s referendum endorsing the Mixed Member Proportional voting system in New Zealand, the Electoral Commission launched a review process aimed at improving the MMP system.  The EC recently issued their Proposals Paper and is soliciting written comments until September 7th.  For the most part, their proposed changes are modest – the most significant ones are reducing the party threshold from 5% to 4% and eliminating the ‘one electorate’ rule that allows a party below the threshold to win list seats by winning a constituency seat.  If you’re interested in commenting on the proposals, please check out their website.
That’s all for now.  We hope to see many of you at our AGM.  If you enjoy our newsletters, please take a moment to pass them on to someone you know and invite them to sign up themselves at our main website ( – just ask them to click the ‘Get Our Monthly Newsletter’ button at the top of the right column on our home page.  The possibility of reform grows as more people understand the issues – please help us spread the word.
Yours for a stronger democracy,
Antony Hodgson
President, Fair Voting BC