Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, has broken his silence on the robocall controversy and expressed his outrage about the fraudulent calls made during the 2011 federal election to over 40,000 voters in approximately 200 ridings by a robocaller(s) (alias Pierre Poutine) impersonating Elections Canada officials. Mayrand called it "totally unacceptable in a modern democracy" during his appearance at the Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
Mayrand promised to step up efforts to uncover the source of the robocall mischief and he indicated that he will present two reports in the near future addressing the problems and issues uncovered from his investigation. "If not addressed and responded to they risk undermining the essential ingredient in a democracy," said Mayrand.
Robocalls are not new. In fact, they are rapidly becoming an outdated campaign tool used by less sophisticated or well-funded campaigns. Robocalls are being replaced by more advanced online technologies and other phone techniques that have interactivity with the voter... like telephone townhalls. The "blast calls" or "blast messages" are more effective for leaving simple messages to an already friendly audience, for example advising them of a meeting or event, but as a voter suppression or identification tool they are becoming increasingly less effective. With more Canadian homes migrating away from landlines and to cell phones or VOIP lines, with call-display and identification options, along with less people paying for voice messaging options on their landlines, fewer and fewer contacts are being made. Legislation is also surfacing in many jurisdictions in North America outlawing unwanted and unidentifiable callers and blast broadcast calls. Voters now see robocalls as simply annoying.
Some of my U.S. colleagues and political friends mock the suggestion that a voter would be so easily persuaded by a robocall voice messenger proclaiming to be a government official and directing them to another voting location at the last minute. In fact, they liken the "Pierre Poutine" amateurish prank and voter suppression tactic to a dirty trick perhaps played for high school student council race. Yes, we Canadians are so naive and trusting.
For one, I look forward to the Chief Electoral Officer's report and findings, and I hope that all political parties - and they all do it on some level - focus less on the voter suppression tactics and more on the job of voter persuasion.
Whether it be "Pierre Poutine" or "Robo Bobo", if you get too cute and mischievous and end up believing that in political campaigning "good is bad and bad is good", it will eventually come back to bite you in the "Puffin Pooper".