Messages provide false polling station info

The Globe and Mail

People leave a polling station in Point-du-Chene, New Brunswick as Canada goes to the polls for the federal election on Monday May 2, 2011.

Bogus phone messages that mislead voters about their polling stations have caused widespread disruptions in at least two provinces: Ontario and B.C.

The automated messages claim to be from Elections Canada. They advise residents in both official languages that their polling station has been changed due to an unexpectedly heavy voter turnout.

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As a result, voters are showing up at the address supplied on the message, only to find it is not a polling station.

The false messages appear to be clustered primarily in ridings where close races are anticipated, meaning a small swing in voting preferences could mean the margin between victory and defeat.

In one riding in Guelph, Ont., the local Liberal candidate has arranged for cars to offer a lift to voters who have been misdirected. The voters are then driven to the proper polling station.

Francine Bastien, an Elections Canada spokesperson, said the office has been fielding scores of calls from frustrated voters in areas, such as Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.

Voters should ignore automated phone messages claiming to be from Elections Canada and follow the instructions on the voting information cards they received in the mail, Ms. Bastien said.

Suspicious voters can check the Elections Canada website or call 1-800-463-6868.

Ben Grossman, a Guelph resident, said he received one of the bogus calls mid-morning telling him that he should vote at a particular mall in downtown Guelph.

Mr. Grossman knew there was no polling booth at the mall, so he went to the office of the local Elections Canada returning officer to warn of the trick.

“They told me that they had been receiving hundreds of calls complaining about this,” Mr. Grossman said. “People need to know that these calls are fraudulent. I presume the purpose behind this is to keep people from voting or to cause disruptions.”

“It is a major disruption and its very unfair, whoever is doing it,” said an Elections Canada official in the Guelph region.