Student groups across B.C. are urging Elections Canada to reconsider its decision to not deploy polling stations on post-secondary campuses this federal election.
The Vote On Campus project was first established by Elections Canada in 2015 to increase youth voter turnout across the country. The project accounted for nine per cent of young voters that year, and it was brought back for the 2019 general election. However, Elections Canada will not be bringing the project back this year, citing pandemic concerns as part of its decision.
Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU) and the BC Federation of Students (BCFS) are urging the federal agency to reconsider its decision. The decision will make it harder for youth to vote and Elections Canada needs to provide students with the opportunity to exercise their voting rights in an accessible manner, said UCRU in a public letter to chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault. According to research published by the BCFS, Canadians under 35 will form the largest cohort of voters in the upcoming federal election.
“Taking (polling stations) away from post-secondary campuses is going to prevent the future of Canada’s workforce from voicing their concerns and will instead exacerbate the negative trends seen in youth voter studies such as ‘voting does not make a difference,’” wrote UCRU.
The BCFS agreed, saying that the decision will create more barriers for youth who want to vote.
“I understand the concerns around COVID-19, but there should have been better planning around this like reducing the number of people allowed in a polling station,” said BCFS chairperson Melissa Chirino.
When asked what she felt about Elections Canada’s decision to push mail-in ballots to youth instead, Chirino said that on-campus polling stations are still the most accessible option.
“It’s good that mail-in ballots are being pushed, and I think that option should always be available… But on-campus voting is still the best option for students especially when they are going back to in-person learning,” she said.
UCRU is a coalition of students’ unions from nine U15 universities and represents over 225,000 students across Canada. The BCFS represents over 170,000 students at 15 colleges, universities and institutes in all regions of B.C.