Revelations are exploding across the nation this weekend that Stephen Harper’s last electoral win may have included a few dirty tricks. Liberal leader Bob Rae among others are now accusing conservative campaigns in the last election of illegally using “robocalls” (automated dialers) to spread misinformation about polling stations and opposition parties. Elections Canada and the RCMP are now investigating.

So far the investigation has traced some of these calls to an Albertan telemarketing firm associated with several Tory campaigns. The allegations involve impersonating Liberal Party members and sending people to the wrong polling stations. Since much of this occurred in ridings where the Conservatives “won” by a few dozen or hundred votes, this casts significant doubt on the legitimacy of their recent win – or in layman’s terms “they cheated“.

What happens when you cheat in an election and win? Not a whole lot. We witnessed this locally when former Mayor Larry DiIanni was convicted of violating new campaign financing laws. It took years of pressure and tens of thousands in legal fees to even convince Council to press charges, even though his violations were apparent within days of winning the election. In the end he had to repay the excess (without interest) and write a letter of apology. Never was the legitimacy of his reign openly questioned, nor the role of local business/development leaders who’d donated (and re-donated, then donated again…) the illicit contributions in question. To this day, DiIanni still portrays the issue as one of a personal vendetta rather than blatant corruption, but that’s done little to stop him from losing two elections since.

Such allegations also stalked George W. Bush through both of his elections – focusing on Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.. Though little was ever proven, reports abound about taking black voters off the electoral roles en-masse, and technical interference from Diebold, big republican donors who also manufacture much of America’s voting machines.

Obviously, this isn’t an isolated problem.

Did the actions of Conservative campaigners affect the outcome nationally? Harper narrowly gained a majority in last year’s election with eleven ridings more than he needed, and his party is now facing allegations in twenty-seven. Even if less than half of these ‘robocall ridings’ led to a victory, it could still have prevented a Liberal/NDP coalition. We’ll never really know for sure, but does it matter? What do these actions say about how our “leaders” see the Canadian public?

Would you bet on a race which you know is fixed? Would you even bother watching a game if you knew the winner ahead of time? How much confidence would you have in future matches if foul play were continually being unearthed after the fact?

These embarrassments show clearly the true purpose of voting. The point is not to determine who the public want as their “representatives” – it’s to present a picture which looks that way. Elections differ responsibility from those in power onto the public for “voting them in” (even when we didn’t) and paint all criticism as an attack on the Canadian people. Whether or not those who “win” truly “represent” the public is beside the point, and trying to enforce the “public will” against even the most corrupt officials would set a horrible precedent. Elections serve to convey the illusion of democracy and legitimacy through regular collective rituals, and for that purpose appearances are all that matter.

If election fraud didn’t change anything it would probably actually be illegal.