Irresponsible Rumour Mongering

I like Jason Cherniak. In person, he is an easy-going individual that seems a decent chap to talk to or otherwise deal with. I also chuckle fondly at his partisan nature, and I’ve said before that there is something endearing over how he can walk away from a punch in the face, bragging about the damage he did to the other guy’s knuckles.

But occasionally, he makes mistakes and does irresponsible things. And this one is a bit of a doozy. In this post, he states:

Let’s face it. People cheat in politics. It’s not a good thing. It shouldn’t happen. But it does. The rumour around TO (Let me be very clear; I am not suggesting that the rumour is true. I am only stating that it is out there.) is that Olivia Chow won because NDP supporters from across the city voted early and often at different polling stations in Trinity-Spadina. I don’t know if it’s true, but just the rumour led the federal Liberals to fight for a new rule that voters must show ID before receiving their ballot. If nothing else, such rules at least ensure that people can have confidence in the democratic process.

Now, let me tell you something that would help ensure that people have confidence in the democratic process: discounting and not repeating irresponsible and totally unsubstantiated rumours which cast doubt on the democratic process. And as coy as Jason tries to be about avoiding any claim that he personally says that this rumour is true, the damage he seeks to do is pretty clear.

I have a fair amount of experience on a number of issues this rumour relates to. First of all, Trinity Spadina is the riding I originally grew up in. Secondly, I have assisted in no less than three elections since 1995, sitting as a poll clerk or a deputy returning officer for two of them. I’ve seen the process at work and it generally works well. I’ve lived in Trinity Spadina and I know it to be a diverse riding with strong NDP support, but also a tendency to cling to strong local candidates of any party (which explains why Liberal Tony Ianno managed to win several elections until 2006, despite spirited challenges from several NDP candidates, including Olivia Chow herself).

As Jennie at Idealistic Pragmatist notes, this rumour is not worth the paper it is printed on:

The fact is that Olivia Chow won her riding by more than 3500 votes in 2006. Therefore, in order for it to be true that she only won because of massive, coordinated voter fraud, there has to have been a highly organized effort among hundreds and hundreds of New Democrats from across Toronto to hop from poll to poll all day and vote, again and again.

Apparently, Cherniak thinks it is possible for party insiders to:

a) determine ahead of time which NDP supporters would be ruthless enough to take part in such an effort,

b) hold secret meetings to coordinate these hundreds of ruthless volunteers at the very same time that they’re also coordinating vote scrutineering and a get-out-the-vote effort among the hundreds and hundreds of much more ordinary volunteers,

c) on Election Day, send them out and make sure each of them succeeds in convincing the trained, non-partisan Elections Canada employees to allow them to vote each time they try, with partisan Liberal scrutineers standing by to watch all this happen at each poll, and

d) manage to keep all of these hundreds of people so quiet that the first rumblings of it come out in the blog of a Liberal who doesn’t even live in the riding, over a year later.

Sitting as a deputy returning officer and as a poll clerk, I’ve had to implement the security procedures Elections Canada maintains in order to ensure a free and fair election. If there was a concerted effort to try and defraud the election process, red flags would rise. We’d see a significant increase in voters registered at the polling booth. We’d see a turnout far in excess of the national average. You’d have people showing up to vote discovering to their chagrin that somebody had already voted in their place. In short, we’d be looking at a conspiracy involving dozens, if not hundreds of individuals, per riding, that would have to be strictly coordinated. Elections Canada itself would probably have to be compromised and I myself would probably have to be a participant.

There is no way you can keep such a conspiracy to the level of just a “rumour”. It is ludicrous to suggest it. It is insulting to me personally, not to mention Olivia Chow’s campaign team. So, I have to ask, if Jason was truly interested in maintaining confidence in the electoral process, why repeat such a rumour?

And Jason, this is not the first time you have used innuendo to try and score points on your political opponents. As a person who respects your political idealism, I wish you would take a good long look at your political cynicism. Not every battle has to be won by any means necessary, and I know you have complained long and loud about partisan attacks against the Liberal party. I suspect you do this because you are a Liberal and you are a human being, and you feel that if anybody unfairly disparages Liberals around you, you yourself have been tainted. Extend that respect to the people around you who happen to vote for other political parties. If you truly feel that this sort of behaviour is beyond the pale of politics, it might do your case good if instead of simply pointing to the moral high ground, you actually stood on it.

“People cheat at politics”? Speak for yourself. There is no indication that any race in the past decade or more here in Canada was won or lost on the basis of chicanery. Most Canadians remain justifiably proud of the strength of their democratic system, and the fact that, whatever differences of opinion Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats have, they will ultimately bow to the will of the people. To suggest otherwise is, ultimately, a slur against all Canadians.

(Update: Monday, 12:17 a.m.): Jason acknowledges his mistake. That’s why I like him.

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