City says no to a voters list to protect public safety

New municipal candidates will be campaigning with no electors list come October. A man walks past City Hall in Calgary on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. In October 2021, Calgarians will go to the polls and vote for a new municipal government with a crowded slate of candidates on the ballot. (Omar Sherif/The Press)

An increasingly crowded field of political candidates will hit the campaign trail with no voter list come October.

And despite negative implications for the future, some are saying it was the right decision.

The list of electors, which is typically created and handed out about 30 days before election day and includes names, addresses, and phone numbers of city voters, will not be created this year due to public safety concerns.

On May 18, Calgary’s returning officer decided they would not be asking city council to order the creation of a voters list for the upcoming municipal election, according to the city’s solicitor.

After mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston threatened to dox AHS workers in an online video, the city made a decision to axe the list entirely.

“It was an idea that, I think, was a response to a current situation with one particular candidate,” said Zain Velji, a Calgary-based political strategist and former campaign manager for Naheed Nenshi.

While he doesn’t believe the candidate’s actions were the main driver of the decision, Velji said they exposed something about our current political culture that needs to be revisited.

Johnston is facing criminal charges in two provinces. In March, he was caught on video assaulting a grocery store clerk in Dawson Creek, B.C. after refusing to wear wearing a mask.

In 2017, he was charged with hate crimes in Mississauga, Ont. after he posted a YouTube video offering a $1,000 reward for video recordings of Muslim students “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.”

How was a man with Johnston’s history allowed to seek Calgary’s highest office?

As Velji explains, running for mayor is an easy process. There is no vetting process, and unlike provincial or federal politics, not having party ties means that anyone can run for public office.

“The biggest protector on the political side is, perhaps, the parties,” said Velji.

“The last thing they want is a candidate running with their banner, who’s done things, or has an unsavory past.”

Controversial mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston had signs hanging at a “Freedom Rally.” Two people sitting at a “Freedom Rally” event next to a sign for mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston in Calgary on Saturday, May 15 2021. Johnston has become a controversial figure during his bid for Mayor (Omar Sherif/The Press)

Isaiah Lindo, a Black Calgary man, said that he feels a little safer knowing that someone with that kind of past will not have his address.

“During the BLM movement, I think a lot of people, especially in the Black community were very hesitant to go out,” he said.

“They were worried that people will start taking names and start taking photos and then they would have repercussions from that.”

In an age of heightened political polarization, Lindo recognizes the need to protect the safety of the public. Omitting the voters list, he thinks, was necessary.

“A voter list is really just a hit list,”, he said, for candidates who would target and harass some of their voters.

Any chance people, especially ethnic minorities, have to protect their identities these days should be valued and not taken for granted, Lindo added.

“It’s the right decision… to protect people.” – Courtney Walcott

Beyond public safety, the lack of an electoral list has implications for new candidates seeking office.

While he is pleased with the decision to protect public safety, Ward 8 council hopeful Courtney Walcott recognizes that for some new candidates, not having an electors list could make campaigning a difficult task.

“I’m actually very proud of them making that decision,” he said. “It’s the right decision because that was what was in our city’s power to protect people.”

Even though he won’t have an electoral list to help his campaign, neither will anyone else running against him, as there’s no incumbent running for Ward 8.

Walcott, however, thinks that this makes the mayoral race uneven.

“My concern is actually less so in the candidate race and more so in the mayoral race,” he said.

There are currently three sitting councillors who have declared their intent to run for mayor who likely have voter lists from previous campaigns.

“What I’m actually worried about is in the big seat, in the mayoral race itself is that those candidates now have a system that is now favoring politicians or current politicians,” said Walcott.

It’s an advantage that he believes needs to be mitigated because it poses a danger to a fair and open election.

“This voters list is not going to be a make or break for a lot of things, it’s just going to make it harder,” said Walcott.

“But that’s okay because there are bigger issues on the table that we have to really negotiate.”

About Omar Sherif 4 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Omar Sherif is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021 academic year.