A national election in Canada this week went virtually unnoticed in the United States. And now a controversy is brewing that also is going unnoticed in the United States: Blogs and social networking sites posted election results before the polls in Western Canada closed.
In Canada, that’s illegal. Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act bans the transmission of election results from any electoral district where polls have closed to districts where the polls are still open, according to the CBC.
People in the western part of the U.S., perhaps, can sympathize. Elections are usually over by the time the polls close. The winner has — usually — been declared and people don’t bother voting. Occasionally there is a call for legislation similar to Canada’s.
But the policy in Canada doesn’t really work, if the goal is to get people to vote. Only 59% of registered Canadians voted. Part of that is another aspect of the law that opens polling places for only 12 hours.
In an editorial this week, the National Post noted that the system is so byzantine that no newspaper carried a photo of Stephen Harper accepting his re-election victory.
The result was absurd: On the National Post’s blogs, posters were forced to censor themselves about riding results that they (and most of their readers) already knew about. The same was true on television. Inevitably, people slipped up: In fact, we observed such slip-ups on all the major networks. In some cases, the spectacle was farcical, with producers desperately trying to bleep out verboten comments while permitting more general analysis.
We confess to having a self-interested motive in opposing Section 329. The people who abide by it (or try to, at least) are established journalists such as ourselves. Meanwhile, on privately run blogs, anything goes. The law thereby ensures that the least responsible outlets attract the greatest number of visitors.
Theoretically, anyone in the U.S. with a Facebook or Twitter account could’ve provided the clandestine information to their Canadian friends. But what are the odds an American with a Facebook or Twitter account knew about an election in Canada?