Defying Election Law
Palser, Barb, American Journalism Review
Canadian programmer posts vote tallies on the Web before polls close
Today's free speech crusaders are as likely to possess computer programming degrees as press credentials.
A prime case is Paul Bryan, a Canadian software developer who made a singular stand against his country's federal election law. After a month-long public prelude announcing his plans, Bryan posted immediate East Coast results for Canada's November 27 national election on his Web site beneath a banner declaring, "Welcome To The Information Age."
Bryan deliberately violated the Canada Elections Act, Section 329, which forbids the distribution of national election results to audiences in districts where voting is still in progress.
The ban was created to shield voters in the West from learning how an election was leaning in the East before they'd had a chance to vote. For years it has forced TV and radio networks to mind their mouths in each time zone, without deterring local stations from announcing immediate results in their own districts.
Extended to the Internet, however, the law prohibits all Web sites from publishing any results until every voting station in the country has closed.
Though Canada's staggered voting schedules mitigate the wait somewhat, East Coast Web sites still had to sit on their numbers until voting ended in the West two-and-a-half hours later. And sit they did, finally letting loose an avalanche of prepared numbers and stories at 10 p.m. EST.
Of course Bryan scooped them all, single-handedly entering numbers for the Eastern provinces as soon as they became available and continuing until the mainstream media took over. At that point the work became overwhelming, and he passed the torch to his "far more capable" counterparts.
The idea wasn't totally original; Bryan was the second Canadian to disobey the Elections Act last fall. In September, authorities confiscated the computer of retired math teacher Ivan Smith after he published election numbers while a vote was still in progress in British Columbia.
Although Bryan had received a threatening letter from authorities before the election and had his home searched afterward, he hadn't been charged with any crime at press time, and was still posting commentary and feedback at www.electionresultscanada.com.
Bryan, whose site solicited and published commentary from supporters and critics in the month before the election, said his chief prerogative was to challenge the government's suffocation of "freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication. …