Twitter, Internet undermine Canada election rules

Tue Nov 10, 2009 3:58pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Twitter 1, Elections Canada 0.

In this era of smartphones and the Internet, the federal elections agency is struggling to enforce a rule that bans the general broadcasting of voting results until all the polls have closed.

As Canadians in four electoral districts spread right across the giant country cast ballots on Monday to fill vacant seats in the House of Commons, Elections Canada asked a newspaper to remove from its website a story revealing initial results from one constituency where voting had ended early.

The agency did not notice reporters had been discussing the same by-election results on the microblogging network Twitter, which is accessible across Canada.

One journalist even sent a Twitter message saying "Oh dear. Have just realized I may have been violating law because of my poor understanding of Twitter". Elections Canada did nothing.

It is little wonder that critics use terms like absurd and archaic to describe a provision that, in large part, comes from an era before the Internet was born.

The rule -- part of the Canada Elections Act -- aims to prevent abuses in the world's second largest country. Canada has six time zones, which means results from the East start to come in while polls are still open in the rest of the country.

To head off the chance that the majority could somehow be influenced by early voting, media organizations are banned from nationally broadcasting any results until the last polling station has closed.   Continued...