Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Please vote for those who can't... like me!

As I write this, I am on a train from Klagenfurt, Austria, through the Alps. Tonight I will be in the Netherlands, where I plan to spend two weeks attending a seminar at the Eindhoven University of Technology. The university, called TU/e, is one of the five partners I'm hoping will grant me a joint PhD in about three years' time. This will be my first chance to see the university, to meet the professors there who interviewed me via skype last year, to see the facilities I hope will allow me to build the first prototype of a new invention. The professor presenting the seminar is an international expert in the field, and I am very excited to be travelling, through these mountains, to this place, for these purposes, and yet...

...and yet my thoughts are far from here.

Canada is having the most important election of my lifetime, and I'm not able to vote.

There is a well-established process in place to allow overseas Canadians to vote. In fact, the problem seems to be precisely that the process is so very well-established. On paper, it is very clear:
      1. Get a copy of Form EC 78500-X (07/2010).
      1. Fill out the form, including a return address, and send it to Elections Canada. Before 6PM on April 26th.
      2. Once there, the form will be manually checked to make sure that it is legible and that the information is both correct and complete.
      3. If my Form EC 78500-X (07/2010) is correct, then Elections Canada will send me a ballot for my riding back home. If not, they will notify me, and I will have to resubmit a corrected version. This iterative cycle continues until the form is acceptable and a ballot can be sent to me, or until 6PM on April 26th.
      4. Once the ballot arrives, I will fill it out and return it to Elections Canada before Election Day.
And there, to misquote Shakespeare, is the rub. The election was called on March 26 and Election Day was set for May 2nd, leaving me 20 business days in which to successfully execute steps 1-5 as explained above. How hard could that be? Well, for me, that would be impossible.

As I mentioned, I am on my way to a seminar. I will be staying in a pension, a small hotel. Even if that were an acceptable address according to Elections Canada (and I wouldn't want to wager more than lunch money on that possibility) even if it were, I didn't get a confirmed address until yesterday, the day before Form EC 78500-X (07/2010) was due in Canada. No problem, right? Just fill out the form on-line and let them print it out. Do they print it out and then have someone check it, or can they evaluate it while you're both on-line and give you feedback before making a hard copy?

Well, no, that's not an option at all as there is no on-line application. We can all understand why, right? I mean, sure, a lot of people aren't comfortable with on-line security... ...though a whole lot of Canadians do bank that way, and file their taxes that way, and shop, arrange travel, and handle their stocks, bonds and mortgages that way.

But sure, Elections Canada are being safe, right? And anyway, Email exists for the very purpose of rapid communication, right? I mean, I'm riding through Gasteinertal right now and, if I can pick up a signal, I could send an encrypted, scanned copy of Form EC 78500-X (07/2010) right from the train.

Wireless too scary?You're one of those folks who worries about encryption? I can't blame you at all, at all. I mean, every government and business official who is addicted to their crackberry uses it all day long and it really isn't all that much like radio, but I can grok your concerns, so I won't push it.

Tell you what, let's do it “Old School” (to use a phrase that, really, I think is only used in Hollywood these days, and then only to make it obvious that the person speaking is as old as me).

Anyway, yes, we could use one of those old-fashioned, noisy and annoying fax machines. I might have a hard time finding a fax machine I can use, but a lot of folks still have them and, you know, they are still used by other branches of the Federal Government of Canada, as well as the courts and the police and, you know Interpol and groups like that, so they should really be secure enough for Elections Can- no?

Really, you ask, sounding suspiciously like John Cleese in a very clean cheese shop, really?

Really. None of those methods are secure enough for Elections Canada.

Not fax, not phone, not Internet,
No on-line form for me,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
They're primitive as can be.

Feel free to go back and sing that last bit, if you haven't already. Don't get the tune? Picture an official from Elections Canada wearing a baggy red rugby shirt and a floppy white sailor's hat and try again. Still not clicking? Read it out loud, pausing at the line breaks, and see if anyone else in the room starts singing.

There you go!
[Note: This may only work with a North American in the room.]

Is it any wonder that crowd-sourcing scares control freaks?

And speaking of control freaks, let me digress for a moment and discuss the last Federal election. Last election,the officials at a polling station in Ottawa tried to tell me that I couldn't vote. Despite my passport and driver's licence, they said I had to show them a bill that had been sent to me at my current address... as though they trusted the phone company to verify my citizenship, more than they trusted the passport office.

I pointed out this flaw in their reasoning and they told me that this was a new requirement. By quoting the elections act, right there in front of a long line of university students who were being systematically turned away for the same reason, I got the attention of someone a little higher up. His... well, his instinct for self-preservation helped him to realize that it would be better to allow me my legal right to to vote than to sign and print his name at the bottom of my handwritten copy of his ridiculous demands.

As I was leaving, I pointed out to the students (off to the side, in their own segregated line) that all Canadians have the right to vote at any open polling station in the country and that they shouldn't leave without doing so, despite the shenanigans of the officials in charge.

Anyway, the point of this story, and I promise it wasn't just to point out that Elections Canada could use a laugh track or that it is out of touch with the state of electronic communications and human interaction in the 21st Century. No, they've done that more eloquently than I possibly could by threatening a $25,000 fine for anyone using Twitter or some parts of Facebook on Election Night.

I mean, write what you want on some parts of Facebook, but the same words on other parts of Facebook will cost you $25,000 - who could compete with that?

No, the point of this story is that I won't be voting this year, despite trying my very best to make it work. I couldn't find a way to do it without involving someone else in the process. Some one with a stable address who could receive the ballot and courier it to me, so that I could complete it and send it on. According to Elections Canada that would have been cheating, and it is much more important to me to be honest during this election than to try to win at any cost.

I sure wish more people felt the same way.

At least, that's my opinion. I could be wrong, It wouldn't be the first time today.

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