Canada has a law on its books which, each election, gets more media attention. Simply put, you’re not allowed to “broadcast” live election results until the polls have closed across the country.
This wasn’t a big deal before the Internet came along, because broadcasters obeyed the law. But when the web, Facebook, and Twitter showed up, everyone seemed to jump on this law saying it was outdated and silly in the reality of today’s communications universe.
Despite what much of the Twitterverse would have you believe, the rationale for the law is actually quite sound.
Let’s say you live on the west coast and plan to vote around 6pm after work. You’re in your car driving to the polling station and you hear the radio announcer say that — so far in poll results — it’s looking like a landslide for a particular party. And it’s the party you wanted to vote for. So, you don’t bother to vote. Heck, you have kids to feed and a lawn to cut, and it looks like you’re going to win anyway, so why make the effort?
That decision of yours could cost the party that landslide. Or even a majority government.
Besides, only people west of the Atlantic have this benefit. It’s unfair to those for whom the polls close first.
It’s tempting to live-tweet results before polls close, but only in an immature, sophomoric way.
In attempting to “stick it to The Man” (i.e., Elections Canada), those who will do this end up sticking it to each other.
Really: What actual benefit is there in broadcasting the results early? How will that actually help democracy? It won’t.
The closest thing to logic that proponents of breaking the ban have is “We should, because… uh… we can.” Just because we have the technology does not mean we are compelled to use it in every circumstance. The Flying Spaghetti Monster gave you free will.
There is a better idea, of course.
And that’s to have all the polls close at the same time across the country — for instance, 7:00 p.m. in Vancouver and 11:00 p.m. in St. John. Then we wouldn’t have this conundrum.
But until then, resist the urge to publish the election results as they come in until all your fellow citizens have had a chance to vote, unencumbered by exit polls, predictions, and media forecasts.
Our common welfare depends on it.