With a critical Calgary municipal election three months away, students are pushing to boost access to polling stations.
The Calgary Student Association (CSA) met outside Calgary’s old city hall on Tuesday to discuss the exclusion of the advanced vote anywhere polling stations.
They claim that the exclusion of the advanced voting stations will stifle voter turnout and amplify youth voter apathy.
CSA chair Marley Gillies said that this is a step backwards for election accessibility.
“If Elections Calgary is serious about improving accessibility and voter turnout then they need to bring back the vote anywhere advance polling stations,” said Gillies.
“Elections Calgary’s move will depress voter turnout, including among students.”
In a June 21 city council meeting, the city’s returning officer Kate Martin was asked about the exclusion of vote anywhere locations on Calgary campuses.
Martin said at the time that there was no single reason why they weren’t included for this election. She said they had to establish election processes with COVID-19 in mind. They were also responding to a 2017 post-election audit that cited distribution of an adequate number of ballots. Martin also said they had concerns about accessibility at the locations.
They also found that most voters voted close to their own residence in the last election. Lastly, it was about making sure there was space.
“As of right now, we’re well past 100 candidates, and we want to ensure that the voting stations that were selected will be able to accommodate candidates scrutineers for their appointed agents,” said Martin.
That didn’t fly with student leaders.
“None of the reasons presented were compelling and justified. This is a giant step backward in elections administrations,” said Gillies.
Boosting youth involvement
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, who won’t be running in this upcoming election, is in favour of bringing back the advanced polling stations. He said that it would help boost the relatively low voter turnout rates among young people.
According to a release from the CSA, in 2017, nearly 75,000 voters cast ballots at the advance vote. That’s more than triple the previous election and nearly 5,000 of those votes were cast on post-secondary campuses.
“Our low numbers are unacceptable for us to call ourselves an advanced western democracy. This is a problem that can be solved by resources and accessibility,” said Woolley.
Woolley said adding these stations wouldn’t be difficult – they’ve done it before. The convenience of having the voting stations would also encourage more Calgarians to vote.
“I appreciate that people are still on the tail end of a pandemic but that rationale doesn’t pass muster and the printing costs do not pass muster,” said Woolley.
The CSA said removing the vote anywhere polling stations, not only makes it more difficult for students to vote but also marginalized Calgarians already facing vote barriers. The CSA said that Elections Calgary could use the massive indoor spaces that are available at many campuses around the city.
“I will say this, If this is something that can simply be solved by money then I say that our democracy is worth the cost of elections,” said Gillies.
Future vote anywhere stations
Martin said in the June 21 meeting that the city would be adding 13 more voting stations in 2021 than in 2017. They would also be boosting efforts to engage students.
“We’re exploring a number of initiatives that will help inform the students and faculty with the voting opportunities in their area,” she said.
An info sheet on the upcoming election said “‘Vote anywhere'” and other voter engagement opportunities which are not compromised by current public health restrictions or concerns will be considered for future electoral events.”
Calgary’s municipal election is Oct. 18, 2021.