It was November 4, 1980, Election Day in the United States. At 9:01 P.M. by the clock in the Oval Office, President Jimmy Carter called now President-elect Ronald Reagan and conceded the race to him graciously. His concession was announced promptly and Democrats nationwide went home with heads hung low.
This sort of scene had been – and would yet be – repeated with different players in the roles in almost every election. Sometimes the Democrats would head home, sometimes the Republicans. But, this time was different. You see, at the time Carter’s concession was announced, the polls were still open on the west coast of the U.S. In fact, they were not due to close until 11:01 P.M. EST.
Democratic Congressmen Al Ullman of Oregon and James Corman of California were outraged. Upon hearing of Carter’s defeat, voters standing in poll lines or on their way to vote threw up their hands and returned home without voting. Ullman and Corman lost their election bids to their Republican opponents. And Carter was blamed.
For reasons such as this, Canada has had a law in place since 1938 that prevents the early transmission of election results. The law was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2007. The fine for violating the law was a maximum of $25,000 (Canadian, which is about $500 less in U.S. dollars, but still stings).
In 2000, Paul Bryan, a software designer, posted election results from one end of Canada on his blog while the polls were yet open in other areas. He fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.
But many, including the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, think the whole law is ludicrous. Despite the warning example of Carter, the PM points out that:
“Those with telephones could get the information from their aunt Mabel living in Toronto. With Internet access, you could get the results internationally from ‘Yahoo.’ And those with satellite TV could get the results from American networks like CNN or ABC, and even from the government’s own CBC satellite news service!”
The current Conservative government in Canada has been determined to do away with the outdated law and says that the next elections will be free of its draconian shadow.
In Canada, the decision was seen as a “bowing to Twitter and Facebook”. Many see it as a practical implementation, getting rid of an unenforceable law – something designed in the 20th century that just doesn’t fit in the 21st.
But, others fear the same thing those Democrats suffered from Carter.