There are a lot of things us journalists (or anyone else, for that matter) can’t do on election day in Canada.
We can’t broadcast the returns from any district until polls have closed in all districts (CBC accidentally flouted that one in 2011, after several people said they would intentionally do so). We can’t release new polling data on election day.
Add to the list: we can’t tweet a picture of a marked ballot. Halifax political blogger (and CBC alumnus), Parker Donham, was caught by Elections Nova Scotia for tweeting a picture of his vote ahead of today’s provincial election. That violates section 95(4) of Nova Scotia’s Elections Act, which prohibits the use of a “recording or communication device” at a polling station. If the RCMP pursue the case, Donham could face a fine of up to $5,000.
Much like the #tweettheresults protest in 2011, Donham’s case raises an old argument about the effectiveness of some election regulations.
If Donham had tweeted, “Just voted for Keith Bain,” he wouldn’t be in trouble right now (unless he had checked into his polling station on Foursquare). If someone with only a handful of followers had tweeted a similar picture, the electoral officials probably wouldn’t have noticed. Would Elections Nova Scotia refer someone to the RCMP if he used his iPhone to double-check which one is Dexter and which one is McNeil?
Smartphone penetration in Canada is now north of 50 percent, and mobile rates are up near 80 percent. The law may have made practical sense back when the average communication device was either attached to a cord or the size of a brick, but it doesn’t make sense anymore—we’re tethered to our devices.
There are legitimate reasons to worry about phones at the ballot box, but a blanket ban isn’t the way to deal with those concerns. If the province’s legislators (whoever they are, after the votes are counted) are serious about the threat of phones as tools of coercion, such a ban should be more deftly folded into the “Corrupt Practices” section of the Act.
For now, though: if you’re going to take a picture of your ballot in Guysborough-Sheet Harbour, use Snapchat instead.