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Students suffer from lack of campus polls

By in 2011 Federal Election/News

The Martlet (University of Victoria)

VICTORIA (CUP) — Students who stood in line for hours to vote at a University of Guelph special ballot polling station were shocked when a Conservative party worker burst in and allegedly attempted to take the ballot box.

“The polling station that was set up wasn’t advertised or wasn’t told to all the campaigns and all the candidates and that’s important in our process, that we have scrutineers, you have workers,” said Gary Lunn, the Conservative candidate for Saanich”“Gulf Islands.

Lunn, who is running neck-and-neck with Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a riding that borders the University of Victoria, added that his party is pleased that Elections Canada decided to accept the ballots despite the procedural error.

“We felt very strongly that the students shouldn’t be punished,” he said. “That’s only going to disenfranchise the youth vote.”

However, in the wake of the incident Elections Canada decided not to allow any more impromptu campus voting for the rest of the election.

“If a returning officer wants to conduct a registration voting activity on campus they need to consult with Elections Canada before the election is called,” Elections Canada spokesperson John Enright said. “The returning officers know their electoral districts better than anybody else ”¦ it’s for them to determine the need and to propose the activity.

“In the case of Guelph it wasn’t done at all and in the case of others, no returning officers have pre-planned similar activities for this election.”

According to Matt James, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, there’s more to it than that.

“I think students are getting the message that some people don’t want them to vote, which, at least for some, will of course provide a very powerful motivation to vote,” he said.

Edith Loring-Kuhanga, the NDP candidate for Saanich”“Gulf Islands, did not respond to repeated interview requests. However, Liberal candidate Renée Hetherington said that today’s young people are more knowledgeable and aware of issues than any generation before them.

“This is a strength we must harness ”¦ by simply showing up to vote on May 2, Canada’s youth will send a strong message to the Harper Conservatives that their voice matters,” she said in an email.

Elizabeth May heard those voices when she attended a rally on campus at the University of Guelph before the controversial ballot.

“Everyone was very excited about it in a very non-partisan sense. Students were gathering to say, ”˜We’ve got to vote. We’ve got to get out the vote. We’ve got to participate,’” said May. “It was well-covered in the media in advance, so I thought the [alleged] interference by Conservative party workers during the vote and the attempt to take the ballot box was really shocking.”

May suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes to suppress youth voter turnout by setting May 2 as the election date, demanding the shortest legal election length possible and ejecting youth from his campaign rallies.

“I think that’s extremely anti-democratic and dangerous for the health of our democracy,” said May, adding that Harper’s new Elections Canada law has resulted in thousands of students, homeless people and seniors, who have given up their drivers licences, being denied the right to vote.

“The new requirements speak to a solution to the problem of ”¦ Canadians trying to vote more than once, but the obvious reality is that many Canadians are voting less than once and we have no problem of wide-spread voter fraud. Our crisis is of low voter turnout,” she said. “We should be examining the benefit of a slightly longer election period, ”¦ more democratic leaders’ debates [and] greater access to candidates for students to help engage young people.”

May also said that while her party is committed to reaching out to youth via traditional methods and social media, the Guelph incident must serve as a lesson for the next election.

“I was thinking it’s a shame they’re not doing this on campuses across the country,” she said. “Now that it’s all unraveled and Elections Canada has said ”¦ ”˜We wouldn’t want any other returning officers to try something like this,’ it really puts into sharp relief the question of what efforts are made to get students to vote.

“If it looks like we’re going to have an election at a time where students will find it very difficult to vote, we should plan ahead for such special ballots.”

For Dylan Sherlock, a director with UVic’s students’ society, that’s a good plan.

“I’d like to see ”¦ an advance polling station on every single campus ”¦ because for students there are the most barriers to actually getting to vote,” he said.

image: CUP

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