Post-secondary students are telling Elections Canada staff to do “as much as they can” to get out the student vote, after the agency cancelled the Vote on Campus program for the 2021 federal election.
“There’s youth voter studies out there that show youth believe voting doesn’t make a difference, and I think these types of actions, and the lack of deployment of special ballot polling stations, exacerbates those negative trends,” Saad Shoaib, vice-president external for the University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society, told CBC News.
Elections Canada said it’s not offering the Vote on Campus program this September for logistical reasons: the pandemic and a minority government made it too difficult to plan anything on a campus.
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Vote on Campus was a targeted program that allowed students to vote in their home ridings while away at school. It saw temporary voting offices set up on campus, where students could vote by special ballot or update their voter information, allowing them to vote in the local riding.
It started as a pilot in 2015, but was expanded to 109 colleges and universities in the 2019 federal election.
“It takes months and months to organize Vote on Campus. And during a minority government, an election can be declared at any time,” Rejean Grenier, a spokesperson for Elections Canada, told CBC News.
“The pandemic didn’t help at all. Most of the universities, when we were starting to plan this campaign … they were closed from March 2020 — and they didn’t know when they were going to be reopening,” said Grenier.
Grenier said the returning officers who work for Elections Canada are making efforts to put polling stations in student neighbourhoods, where possible.
Vote by mail-in, special ballot
Students still have the option to vote by mail-in ballot (deadline to apply is Sept. 14) or special ballot at an Elections Canada office (deadline to vote is Sept. 14).
But neither of those options go far enough, say Shoaib and McMaster Student Union president Denver Della-Vedova, who have co-signed a letter to Stéphane Perrault, the country’s chief electoral officer.
“I think it falls on Elections Canada to do as much as they can to ensure that students are able to vote and have equitable, fair access to voting in every way possible,” said Della-Vedova.
“This is a need. This is a need for students. They need to be able to respond in a quick manner and I think this calls for special circumstances. They should make every effort to ensure that students have the right, accessible mechanisms on campuses to vote,” said Shoaib.
At the bare minimum, the students say Elections Canada needs to commit to reinstating the program for the next federal election.
Elections Canada has not made any such promises. Its website says any external service point program — of which Vote on Campus is a part — “will not be deployed for the 44th [general election] in a pandemic or post-pandemic situation.”
It goes on to say that would be re-evaluated if pandemic restrictions were lifted.