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NDP helping voters cope with new ID rules: James

New Democratic Party leader Carole James acknowledged that new voter identification rules are a problem for many people, but stopped well short of denouncing the rules Gordon Campbell's Liberal government introduced last year.

“I'm very upset,” said a woman who identified herself as Mama Bear before asking a question about the new rules at an April 29 all-candidate's meeting for Victoria-Beacon Hill at Our Place, a drop-in centre and shelter. “Most of the people here do not have IDs . . . It makes me cry every night. I for one don't have a picture ID.”

The stricter rules require voters to have identification issued either by the province or the federal government that includes their name, photograph and address. Without that, a person can vote if somebody else who is on the voters list will vouch for them, but nobody will be allowed to vouch for more than one person.

Previously photo identification was not required, and a voter could vouch for an unlimited number of others. Similar federal rules, which followed a trend set by Republican state governments in the United States, are the subject of a court challenge and are estimated to have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from voting in the last national election, the Tyee reported.

“I felt it was important for us to do our part,” James told the crowd. “As an MLA's office we took on being one of those places for people to come and get their ID and we provided support to individuals. We funded that because it's not funded by the government.”

There's a need, she said. “We have filled more applications for ID in this last while than I think anyone imagined,” she said.

“We're going to continue to lobby the government to make changes because people shouldn't have to pay for their picture ID when they don't have any ID, but until the government makes changes we're going to keep doing the work we're doing in the MLA's office to serve the community.”

The Liberal candidate, Dallas Henault, defended the rules. “We followed the federal model on that,” he said. “We're trying to make sure we safeguard our process but we're also making sure services are there for people that do need to vote.”

The Green Party's Adam Saab said it is a serious issue and the rules are “exactly backwards”: “In many cases people who don't have ID, the proper identification, are those who need to vote the most.”

“We have to open up to people who are otherwise marginalized,” said Saul Andersen, an independent who identified himself as an anarchist. “I do think it will be necessary to reevalute the criteria we use to decide which people can vote and participate in this so-called democracy.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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