Is s.329 of the Elections Act quixotic?

Section 329 of the Elections Act reads,

“No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.”

The polls in Newfoundland and Labrador close at 8:30pm local time whereas those in BC close at 7pm. In reference to the Eastern time zone, those eastern polls close at 7pm and those polls on the west coast at 10pm. Therefore, it is technically illegal to broadcast results of any poll between 7pm and 10pm tonight though results should be available as early as 7:45pm.

In this age of new media, bloggers, facebookers and twitterers are expected to operate in the framework of an antiquated law. When this provision of the Elections Act was written, the intent of the law was to prevent television networks from broadcasting results in Newfoundland to British Columbia in order to prevent BC voters from having results before they cast their own ballots. Now that new media offers populist broadcasting to everyone with a mobile phone or a computer, how will Elections Canada enforce this provision of the Elections Act?

In my opinion, this section is a violation of free speech. Yes, I understand the reasoning behind it, yet I do believe that the law does not reflect reality in this age of self-broadcasting. Laws should be enforceable because when it is impossible to enforce a law, a law ceases to have effect. If the purpose behind the law is valid (to prevent “specially informed” voters), a more realistic method of achieving it is required. It is much more reasonable to close all polls at the same moment no matter the time zone.

What is to stop an Atlantic Canadian from updating her twitter status as to the result of her Newfoundland riding? Or the Prince Edward Islander from posting who is in the lead on his Facebook wall? Since the possible forums for national broadcast have gone from a limited three television networks to practically limitless social media outlets, this particular provision of the Elections Act is de facto unenforceable.

And who is responsible for the rebroadcasting of early results? Do I shut down Blogging Tories for three hours this evening because a blogger whose RSS feed I aggregate there may put me in violation of the Act? Is the situation similar for Google Reader and iGoogle which both act as an RSS reader? More broadly, will Google shut down its Blogger site to Canadian IP addresses? Will Twitter face sanction because a Canadian might convey information to another Canadian through its American-hosted service?

Indeed, the law does not reflect reality and must be changed. What remains to be seen is whether change will come from mass social media violation of s.329 or through the legislative process.

Leave a Reply