Privacy and Voting

September 5th, 2015

Arguably the two most important rights in a liberal democracy are the right to privacy and the right to vote. When these two concepts are combined, the right to a secret ballot becomes the strongest underpinning of our democratic system.

Certainly nobody in Canada would argue that the secret ballot should be compromised. But what about the question of WHETHER an individual has voted. This information is recorded on Election Day and then destroyed in most jurisdictions.

In an era of declining voter turnouts, we need to ask ourselves whether it is worth saving voting history so that non-voters can be encouraged to vote in future elections. Millions of dollars of advertising by Elections Canada have failed at increasing voter turnout, particularly by young and lower socio-economic voters.

This calls for a review of the approach. When there is a downturn in auto sales, the automobile industry does not launch a “buy a car campaign.” Instead, car companies use the available data to target and drive buyers to their product. Why should voting be different? Armed with information about past voter turnout, political parties would be able to target and motivate non-voters to become voters.

We live in an information society. While we need to discuss and decide on the implications of collecting and using the data, we must strike an appropriate balance between protecting privacy and promoting participation in democracy. Questions about who should have access to the information (just political parties, or third party groups, or even the general public) need to be considered. But these need to be carefully considered questions, not obstacles to the objective.

Dimitri Pantazopoulos - Partner, Maple Leaf Strategies

Dimitri has spent his career in politics and public policy, providing communications and strategic advice based on sound public opinion research. Dimitri provided public opinion research and managed direct voter contact for the 2013 BC Liberal election campaign and received national accolades as the only pollster to accurately predict the outcome of the provincial election. […]