One of Canada's leading polling firms says it has found strong evidence of a targeted program of voter suppression aimed at non-Conservative voters during last May's federal-election campaign.
The activities, surveyed in seven ridings across the country that are currently being contested in Federal Court, included erroneous reports of changes in voting station locations as well as faux calls purported to be from Elections Canada, says Ottawa-based Ekos Research Associates.
The Ekos survey, done in mid-April, is the first extensive study using fresh data that has been done of voter suppression allegations since anecdotal evidence of illegal automated calls – the so-called robo-call scandal – began surfacing in February.
Ekos president Frank Graves said the survey found voters in the seven ridings were 50 per cent more likely to have received illegitimate calls than those in 106 surveyed "comparison" ridings, in many of which there have been no allegations of illegal calls. And about three times as many Liberal, New Democrat and Green supporters as Conservative supporters claimed they were given false or incorrect information about polling station locations in the last two or three days of the campaign, Ekos found.
Elections Canada opened an investigation in Guelph, Ont., after being flooded by complaints of harassing or misleading phone messages said to be aimed at discouraging Liberal supporters from voting or turning voters away from the Liberal Party.
The Ekos survey found a strong correlation between people who said they indicated to political canvassers at the start of the campaign they would not be supporting the Conservatives and people who claimed they were called on the eve of voting day and given false information.
Ekos pointed out that if the responses alleging incorrect information being received were the constructions of disgruntled non-Conservative voters, it would leave unexplained why the same targeting effects were not present in the comparison group.
The seven ridings Ekos surveyed were Yukon, Nipissing-Timiskaming in Ontario, Elmwood-Transcona in Manitoba, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Winnipeg South Centre, Don Valley East in Toronto and Vancouver Island North. All were won by Conservative candidates by margins of less than 1.3 per cent of the total vote or less, with the exception of the B.C., riding which the conservative candidate won by 3 per cent.
The survey sampled 3,297 Canadians in the seven sample ridings with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points – and conducted a parallel survey of 1,500 Canadians in comparison ridings with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
The Ekos study focused on three questions: to what extent may voter suppression techniques have been used to influence outcomes in the seven ridings; if voter suppression activities occurred, did they deliberately target electors who were supporters of particular political parties; and how effective were any suppression activities in discouraging those from casting a ballot who would otherwise have voted?
Ekos says its study provides reliable answers to the first two questions. Voters in the seven subject ridings were much more likely to receive misleading calls than in the comparison ridings. "Liberal supporters were over three times more likely to receive such a call than Conservative Party supporters. Similarly, all opposition voters were dramatically more likely to receive these misleading calls. These results strongly suggest that significant voter-suppression activities took place that were targeted at non-Conservative voters."
But on the third question, it says, "Assessing causal impacts is an exceedingly complex problem and this research cannot provide definitive estimates of the size of the causal impacts. It can, however, provide a rough range of what the impacts might be."
Mr. Graves said Ekos found that 1.5 per cent of voters surveyed in the seven ridings stayed home because of calls concerning polling station location changes – and 0.1 per cent, or 1/20th of the total, identified themselves as Conservative supporters. Mr. Graves said the margin of error in this finding is 0.4 per cent.
He said a vote shift of less than 1.3 per cent in six of the seven ridings was all that was needed to shift the outcome.
The Ekos survey was commissioned by the activist organization Council of Canadians, which is seeking to have the Federal Court overturn the outcome in the seven ridings.
Special to The Globe and Mail
By the Numbers
Number of people randomly surveyed across the seven ridings under dispute, along with 1,500 in 106 comparison ridings
Increased likelihood that voters in the seven ridings got an illegitimate call announcing false polling station changes
The number of times Liberal supporters were more likely than Conservative supporters to receive a misleading call
Federal Ridings Affected
Don Valley East
Winner: JOE DANIEL, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 870 votes
Turnout: Riding 56.6% vs. National 61.1%
Winner: LAWRENCE TOET, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 300 votes
Turnout: Riding 55.9% vs. National 61.1%
Winner: JAY ASPIN, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 18 votes
Turnout: Riding 60% vs. National 61.1%
Winner: KELLY BLOCK, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 538 votes
Turnout: Riding 60.5% vs. National 61.1%
Vancouver Island North
Location: British Columbia
Winner: JOHN DUNCAN, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 1,827 votes
Turnout: Riding 65.5% vs. National 61.1%
Winnipeg South Centre
Winner: JOYCE BATEMAN, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 722 votes
Turnout: Riding 69% vs. National 61.1%
Location: Yukon Territory
Winner: RYAN LEEF, CONSERVATIVE
Margin: 132 votes
Turnout: Riding 66.2% vs. National 61.1%