OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, bowing to the power of Twitter and Facebook, said on Friday it would end a ban on reporting early election results before polls close across the country.
The ban was intended to prevent the results from Eastern Canada influencing voters in the West, where polling booths stay open later.
But the plethora of new communications tools made the rule impossible to police, and Elections Canada officials gave up monitoring premature release of data.
“This ban, which was enacted in 1938, is out of place and unenforceable,” Tim Uppal, junior minister for democratic reform, said at a news conference.
Minutes earlier, he announced the change in policy by Twitter, using his @MinTimUppal handle.
The Conservative government intends to enact the new law before the October 2015 federal election. Uppal said news agencies and broadcast outlets will also be free to publish results as they arrive.
The ban had led to comic attempts to get around it. One user tried on the May 2 general election night to capture the strong surge by the New Democrats, whose party color is orange: “My orange soda is fizzy.”
Soon others were sending Tweets with specific election results from Atlantic Canada, while opponents of the ban promoted the Twitter hashtag #tweettheresults as a way to broadcast news. National broadcaster CBC briefly offered election results in Central Canada while the polls were still open, before abruptly switching off the broadcast feed.
“The government is recognizing the reality of modern communications and that this law, enacted before even televisions became common, is out of date,” said Eric Grenier of the popular ThreeHundredEight.com political website.
Canada, the world’s second largest country by area, has six time zones. There is a 3-hour window between the time when polls close in Newfoundland, on the Atlantic coast, and when they close in British Columbia, on the Pacific.
“It shouldn’t have much of an effect on elections, as the number of people who would both learn about and be influenced by vote results in eastern Canada in the last few hours of voting day has to be tiny,” Grenier said.
Editing by Frank McGurty