Elections Alberta says it is pausing its radio ads, revising its online advertisements and changing its website language around voter registration following a flurry of concern on social media that muddy messaging could discourage some from showing up on voting day.
“We’ve heard some feedback online about our Register to Vote campaign, and that tells us that the information was not as clear to some electors as we’d intended. The bottom line is we want all Albertans to vote,” said an Elections Alberta spokesperson in a statement.
In a Thursday tweet, the non-partisan office wrote that voters “must be a registered voter to cast” ballots and could save time “by registering online in advance.”
Messaging that included the wording “Bring your ID to vote” and “You must show ID to prove your identity and address” was mailed to voters. Radio ads and explainer videos included similar messaging.
Identification is not mandatory to vote in Alberta. Voters can have a registered elector in their voting area vouch for them, or they can have an authorized signatory complete an attestation form. That information was included lower down on the mailouts.
Voters are also not required to pre-register prior to the election, and can do so when they show up on election day.
“It’s disconcerting,” said Jared Wesley, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta.
“Part of what Elections Alberta and election authorities like them across Canada are supposed to do is provide information that’s accurate, and to open up the voting process to as many people as possible. This did quite the opposite.”
The concern, Wesley said, is that misinformation could be weaponized by groups to suppress votes among those in traditionally marginalized communities.
Change came in response to legislation
In a series of followup tweets posted Thursday, Elections Alberta said the initial tweets sent “weren’t as clear as we thought,” adding that pre-registering to vote saves time, and registering at the voting location takes longer.
In a statement sent to CBC News, Robyn Bell, a spokesperson with Elections Alberta, said it was important to note there has been a change in legislation since the last election.
Bill 81, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, came into force on March 31, 2022. In the past, ID was required only if you were being added to the voting record, Bell wrote, but in this election electors need to be able to prove their identity and physical residence in order to vote.
“There are many ways to do that,” Bell wrote, referring to options such as having electors vouch for other electors, or having completed attestation forms.
“Elections Alberta’s mandate is to make sure electors have all the information they need. We’re hearing feedback that our campaign materials have caused confusion for some electors. We are taking that feedback and making adjustments to ensure the language is more clear.”
Website later revised
Similar language was used on Election Alberta’s website. As of Friday, the “ID required to vote” page informs voters they only “must prove your identity and current address,” listing the vouching and attestation options.
But in an April 4 snapshot from the Wayback Machine, a digital archive, the website states voters “must show identification to prove your identity and current address.”
Much like the booklet sent to voters, the page leads with the types of identification required, before moving on to then list the alternative options.
Though attempts at clarification have been made, Wesley said the challenge is that previous materials have now been disseminated in the community through mailouts and radio advertisements.
“My hope is that Elections Alberta takes a step back and communicates with the public very clearly that it is an easy process to vote, and everyone who wants to will be allowed to vote, provided that they’re eligible,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Elections Alberta has faced flak for posting confusing information online.
In October 2021, it faced criticism from law experts for sharing inaccurate information about the equalization referendum on its website.
The official Elections Alberta Twitter account would later get into a public argument with University of Alberta economics professor Andrew Leach. The office later apologized, saying it had removed the individual responsible from its social media accounts.