Removal of polling stations on campuses ‘sad for students’
Student leaders fear move will spark apathy
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This article was published 28/08/2021 (528 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As far as one local student leader is concerned, Ottawa’s decision not to host polling stations on post-secondary campuses during the federal election is “a disservice to Canada’s democratic process.”
Alexandra Koslock, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students’ chapter in Manitoba, said she was disheartened to learn this week that Elections Canada will not run ballot boxes at colleges or universities.
It was during fall 2019 that Koslock, a recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg, cast her first federal vote. She did so at a poll on campus, after running into peers who were promoting the option and encouraging turnout.
“It’s very sad for students. We know that having polling stations on campus increases accessibility for voter turnout,” she said Friday. “We see this as a disservice to Canada’s democratic process, especially in a year where millennials make up the largest voting block across the country.”
The University of Manitoba, U of W and Red River College all ran polls during the 43rd general election. The stations, which are part of the Vote on Campus program, the product of a successful 2015 pilot to increase youth participation, attracted 977, 819 and 465 voters, respectively, in 2019.
On Wednesday, Elections Canada posted on Twitter the program is being suspended “due to the challenges brought on by the pandemic and the minority government situation.” In response to follow-up queries, the agency said it could not give school administrators firm dates to help them plan because of the snap election.
(A U of M spokesperson said the school was notified about Elections Canada’s stance last October.)
Political scientist Félix Mathieu called the snap election excuse “shady,” given a fall general election was widely predicted.
“The decision of not having polling stations on campuses, the impact of this, is huge. It really concerns me,” said the assistant professor of politics at U of W.
Mathieu is worried that cancelling polls designed to make voting convenient for students will affect turnout — but also, about how the absence of a regular campaign on campuses could shape future habits and turnout, given students construct their worldview and political identity at university.
He added the New Democrats, who rely on the youth vote more than other parties, will likely lose votes because the polls are closed.
In 2019, 54 per cent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast ballots; by comparison, 79 per cent of the 65- to 74-year-old population voted.
The biggest barrier to improving turnout next month is that COVID-19 has heightened apathy, said Brendan Scott, president of Manitoba’s largest students union. The 2021 U of M students union election, during which Scott was elected, had historically low turnout.
Scott is not that concerned about the loss of campus polls, noting an estimated 70 per cent of U of M students will be studying at home this fall.
“Students are very much less engaged in general because there haven’t been any in-person events or any real events within the past year and a half,” he said, adding the union will encourage students to vote via social media.
The Canadian Federation of Students has launched its Generation Vote campaign to outline party policies and promote ballot logistics.
Koslock said students are waiting to be shown that they are, in fact, a priority, adding she hopes Elections Canada will confirm details on how it will make voting accessible to youth in the coming days.
Among the key issues for young voters are affordable post-secondary education, pandemic relief policies and climate change.
Options for casting a ballot this year include voting early at an assigned polling station or by special ballot, either via mail or at an Elections Canada office, or on Sept. 20 at one’s designated polling station.
Updated on Monday, August 30, 2021 11:11 AM CDT: Adds photo