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Veiled Voting or veiled racist?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 23, 2011

Previously I discussed accommodationalism involving both limits on intolerance and tolerance. In researching that post, I discovered a story that has put me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with our Conservative government – veiled voting ban. A private members bill is making its way through Ottawa that would force those wishing to vote to be visually identified by Elections Canada. Under the current law, voters are not specifically compelled to show their faces. There is no data to suggest that face covering was actually a problem for Elections Canada staff. The agency reported that no one failed to comply with requests to identify themselves during the 2008 vote. Elections Canada has retained the right to ask someone to swear an oath attesting to their eligibility to vote, if they refuse to remove a face covering. If the voter declines the oath, the agency doesn’t let them vote. This law would allow visual confirmation that no voter fraud is being perpetrated.

Quebec Conservative backbencher, Steven Blaney who is bringing forward this private members bill, wouldn’t say his bill is aimed at Muslim women, but said there have been incidents in which voters showed up at the polls wearing ski masks or Halloween masks. I think also this extends to photo ID. There have been calls by religious or cultural fundamentalist that people be able to wear face covering FOR THEIR PHOTO ID, for such things as drivers licences or passports. This is just stupid and makes the idea of visual identification farcical.

Immigration minister Jason Kenney said “I don’t think we should be adopting the French idea of banning (the burqa)… I don’t think we should be regulating what people wear but when a citizen comes to deal with the government, particularly to exercise their right to vote, I think it’s entirely reasonable that we say we need to confirm who you are and a facial identification is a reasonable way of doing that”.

The real test for this law, and perhaps the reason it should not pass is, will it be equally applied to anyone who does not have photo id? Here we see the fine line between appropriate safe guards and racism. The purpose of this law is to ensure faces match photo id, however under current laws, those without photo id (but having an uncovered face) can vote provided they present other id. Conceptually there is no difference between the two. So if we insist that those unwilling to show their face to collaborate photo id are disallowed from voting, we should also insist that those without photo id in the first place be disallowed. Or are we willing to accommodate the forgetful but not the modest?

(Canadian edit)


What are your thoughts?


8 Responses to “Veiled Voting or veiled racist?”

  1. Gerald Parker said

    I think you might be over looking a larger point in reference to the visually identifying before voting. The requirement to show photo ID is a system which will disinfranchise some groups of voters. These are generally lower income people and ones not likely to vote conservative. I do not doubt that the current government has a big desire to bring in photo ID to the polling station. That a very very small number of veiled women might vote and not actually be who they say they are is not a real problem. Would it even be one? That a group of voters could be stopped from voting is a big problem. Was it not the case the conservative did already try to bring in mandatory photo ID??? I seem to recall they have tried this.

    This practice of forcing women to cover their faces because it might cause some man to lust after them is arcane and frankly stupid. If there is a way to rid our world of this stupidity and keep out basic rights intact I would be all for it. Yet I do not think there is. I am sceptical.

  2. I agree. At times one can fall into tunnel vision and in this case I did a complete face plant. I still hold that IF we do photo ID (and that at least in theory its not unreasonable) we must apply it consistently. That said, photo ID has been a means of voter suppression in the USA to remove lower income, disadvantaged, minority and ‘illegal’ voters from expressing their right to participate in the political process.
    Thanks for the smack, i feel better that i find myself no longer siding with the ev…er… Conservative party.

    • Gerald Parker said

      “Thanks for the smack, i feel better that i find myself no longer siding with the ev…er… Conservative party.”

      Always a happy day! 🙂

  3. zarah said

    I really think we, Canadians, and even using the designation “Canadian” will invoke an inference by some an ethnic disrespect to all others, are losing our identity in the compulsion to provide compromise to everyone else.Let’s face it ( no pun intended) regardless of our composition Canada has a history to be celebrated but that uniqueness is being lost in a frankly satirical effort to please everyone. Can’t be done!
    Enjoy your show. Zarah

    • Gerald Parker said

      Just what is our identity? It was not illegal in the past to cover your face while voting. People have voted before wearing masks as a joke or maybe protest. What is the harm or the tradition that we need to protect? Photo ID is not required now, so what good is showing a face? To me you are calling being polite and protective of human rights a “… satirical effort to please everyone.”

      I am frankly tired of people who suddenly find traffic issues when a new Sikh Temple is proposed or security at the polls must be protected because a few non-white women want to vote wearing ridiculously stupid traditional clothing. Of course those people are not racist, for sure. Voter ID laws, have been used in the not so distant past to limit the voting of minorities and the poor. That is a real harm.

  4. Ethan Clow said

    The concept of a Canadian culture that could be compromised as a result of accommodating other ideas and life styles is mostly false. This was the same argument that was rampant in Charles de Gaulle’s France, and last I checked, France was still France.

    Of course, I would take issue with the notion that just because voter ID laws have been misused in the past, they shouldn’t be used now. That’s a logical fallacy. Just because something was used to a negative effect in the past, doesn’t make it de-facto negative. Science has been used to negatively in the past but we don’t consider science evil.

    • Gerald Parker said

      Yikes! I’ll never escape this computer today, between opening my big mouth and applying for work. I really do not see how it is a logical fallacy. Certainly, I understand just because something is does not mean it ought to be (thank-you David Hume). I see a clear chain that the photo ID does limit voting for poorer people. Not everyone drives, has bank accounts or credit cards. The need for photo ID is not universal in this country. To take BC as an example a photo ID costs $35. Perhaps, it is to bad so sad if the poor or anyone does not wish to organize their life around being an effective member of society. I still have to ask why should barriers be erected that serve no practical benefit. To accommodate participation is not, in my mind, a bad thing.

      Currently, ID when voting is mostly required, which came into effect in 2007. But it does not have to be photo ID. You may still vote with out having any ID at all. I think it is still the case that you my mail in your ballot. I do not know what kind of ID must be provided for a mailing kit. I did see a number of 80,000 mail in votes from before the current election law.

      I believe in my heart of hearts that this whole issue is driven for the most part by xenophobia or worse.

  5. […] Veiled Voting or veiled racist? […]

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