nature 1902

Canada Reforms Voting Franchise Ahead of Election

A poster urging newly-enfranchised Canadian women (all of whom were closely related to Canadian soldiers) to vote to re-elect the government.

September 14 1917, Ottawa–Canada, like the UK, had put off having a general election during the war so far.  However, by late 1917, it was felt that this was no longer politically feasible; the new conscription was extremely unpopular in Quebec, and for the government that enacted it to continue without a challenge at the ballot box would have been too undemocratic to allow.  Of course, this did not mean that current government could not take steps to help ensure its re-election.  A plebiscite on conscription in Australia had failed last year; PM Borden did not want to lose the upcoming election if it acted as a referendum on the topic.

On September 14, the Canadian House of Commons approved the War-Times Election Act, which enfranchised soldiers’ wives and close relatives for the duration of the war and any post-war demobilization.  This was the first time women were granted the right to vote in federal elections; it was hoped that these women strongly supported conscription, and the Conservative government that supported it, in order to help their relatives already serving in Europe.  On the other hand, the act also disenfranchised conscientious objectors, as well as Canadian citizens originally from enemy countries who were naturalized after 1902.

Shortly after this, the government also passed the Military Voters Act, which would allow soldiers serving in Europe to vote in the election as well.  Ostensibly to overcome the logistical hurdles of delivering a ballot to each soldier appropriate to his original riding in Canada, all soldiers would be given a ballot with only two options: “Government,” or “Opposition.”  These votes would then be assigned to a riding by the party they voted for–not necessarily a riding with any ties to the soldier who voted.  Since it was expected that soldiers would overwhelmingly vote to re-elect the government, this effectively would allow the government to gerrymander on the fly, assigning voters to ridings where their vote would make the most difference.

Unsurprisingly, these measures were extremely unpopular in Quebec, which had few volunteer soldiers, and only increased their resentment of the Conservative government.

Today in 1916: Seventh Battle of the Isonzo
Today in 1915: Final Plans Made for Allied Offensive in France
Today in 1914: Von Moltke, German Commander-in-Chief, Unofficially Dismissed