Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Voters all atwitter about posting results early

A polling station sign at a Mississauga voting station, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007.

J.P. Moczulski/ The Canadian Press/J.P. Moczulski/ The Canadian Press

In a quintessentially Canadian kind of online revolution, plugged-in vigilantes are vowing to flout an 73-year-old law by posting election results early.

Polls close in Newfoundland at 8:30 p.m., which is 4:00 in B.C. They close in B.C. at 7:00. During the gap, (it's only a half an hour if you're on Eastern Time and polls close at 9:30), the rule is - as it has been since 1938 - that no one can transmit election results to a province whose polls haven't closed.

Consternation surrounding what many see as an outdated regulation have given rise to - a website dedicated to aggregating people posting early results to Twitter.

Story continues below advertisement

"What this act, and Elections Canada, do not seem to have reflected or absorbed is that we live in a world where anything that is said in one place is being said everywhere," says Alexandra Samuel, a Vancouver-based social-media guru and one of the people behind the site.

But now, she says, they're having second thoughts: Fomenting a revolt is one thing, but landing in court for your troubles is another. Ms. Samuel says they're still on the fence as to whether they'll keep the site live Monday night.

Ms. Samuel says she has no problem with an anti-spoiler approach to election results - living in B.C., she knows the feeling of having the election decided before she's cast a vote. But if the verdict is to keep the blackout in place, she argues, why not just keep ballot boxes shut until polls close countrywide?

Elections Canada, for its part, has taken pains to note that it's just enforcing a law over which it has no control. Spokesman John Enright emphasized its investigations are complaints-based only, and the Election Commissioner decides whether cases are worth investigating.

"He considers the public interest as to whether or not he'll pursue the matter."

Meanwhile, the blackout turns media organizations into reportorial acrobats: Broadcasters such as the CBC and CTV, which have gone to court fighting to change the Elections Act, need to not only close off online comments, Twitter and Facebook feeds, but also disable certain transmitters, lest a rogue signal cross a provincial border.

"They'll have to go through considerable contortions to reconfigure the way they collect and distribute the news in order to comply," says lawyer Mark Freiman, who represented the broadcasters in their case before Ontario Superior Court last month.

Story continues below advertisement

Not only is the law virtually impossible to enforce, Mr. Freiman argues, "the law really is unlikely to make any change in people's behaviour."

Report an error Licensing Options
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.