In federal elections, special voting rules have been established for incarcerated offenders. Incarcerated individuals who are Canadian citizens eligible to vote are given the opportunity to add their names to the Register of Electors by completing an Application for Registration on the Register of Electors (Elections Canada, 1997). Like all electors, incarcerated persons may cast only one vote and their vote is counted in their home riding. An inmate's home riding is determined by his/her address before incarceration. In the case of previously homeless individuals, a spouse, dependant or relative's riding may be used. Incarcerated electors vote on the tenth day before general public polling. Polling stations are set up in each institution by a liaison officer for Elections Canada and remain open until all eligible voters wishing to participate in the election have voted. Ballots are then forwarded to Elections Canada headquarters and sorted by electoral riding.
The right to vote is vital to any democratic society. Although each Canadian citizen's right to vote is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, three Canadian provinces and territories ( New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Yukon) have elected to deny participation in provincial elections to incarcerated individuals. Other provinces have selective bans.
Appendix A provides a list of court challenges and legislative amendments on inmate voting rights both provincially and federally. Court after court has said that the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to vote and that banning inmate voting is contrary to the Charter. In spite of this and at great expense to the taxpayers, governments continue to challenge the rulings, creating new laws that attempt to circumvent the rulings and seeking stays against a segment of its citizens exercising their democratic rights.
The history and rhetoric of government interference with inmate voting demonstrates clearly the political agenda involved in this issue. The federal government granted provincial inmates the right to vote in federal elections, while continually seeking to deny federal inmates the same right. Their logic for this was that denial of voting for federal inmates was justifiable because the two year sentence requirement ensures that only those who have committed the most serious crimes are denied the vote (Judge returns prisoners= right..., 1996). The Alberta government, on the other hand, seeks to draw the line at 10 days. The fact that these lines can be drawn at such disparate places for the same reason speaks clearly to a political agenda, rather than a correctional or rehabilitative one. Alberta=s legislation was passed in late 1998, but has yet to be enacted.