Advocates concerned pandemic election may have future impact on voters
Voting advocates are concerned the lack of on campus polling stations may have contributed to a discouraging first-time voting experience for student electors.
On Monday, student voters in Waterloo faced long lines and hours-long waits to vote in the federal election after the Vote on Campus program was scrapped due to pandemic uncertainty. Elections Canada says it reallocated those resources to other service offerings because of the uncertainty of students on campus during the fourth wave of the pandemic.
“Decades of research show when you engage folks in politics young, you’re able to create this entire generation of lifetime voters and Vote on Campus programs play into this as well so, the removal this program on campuses this year has some long-term impacts on our democracy that we have concerns about,” said Camellia Wong, a spokesperson with the voter advocacy group Future Majority based in Toronto.
For first-time voters like Nolan White-Roy, studying at the University of Waterloo, it wasn’t as straightforward a process as he would’ve liked.
“It was tough right? I was standing in the line trying to read my physics lectures to study while I was sitting there,” said White-Roy.
White-Roy waited nearly two hours to cast his ballot and had the added complication of switching his voting registration to his home riding in Stratford to Waterloo.
The pandemic-induced challenges and the registration complication saw White-Roy wait in three different lines but, that wouldn’t deter the new voter.
“One was over an hour to get into the first one just for them to tell me, ‘No, you’re not allowed to vote here,’” said White-Roy.
For first-time voters like Brooke Befekadu, it was a similar story at advance polls.
“I had to wait over two hours to actually vote,” she said. “If you actually want something to happen, you have to do something about it so, I had to go and get that done ahead of time.
For other student voters, those snaking polling station lines were another barrier too high to clear.
“I was ready to vote but then, I just never made it,” said Visalini Balasuriyani, a student at the University of Waterloo. “I was so busy studying and I heard the lines were super big too so, I was like, ‘Maybe I can go later on,’ but, even then it was really long.”
Wong is encouraged by conversations her group has had with young voters, saying the new generation of voters is engaged in key issues like climate change, job security and affordability.
“Young Canadians are more politically engaged than ever,” said Wong. “In the future we would really like to see Elections Canada re-implement these on campus polling stations so, that folks are able to vote easily.”
For some university students in Waterloo, both new and returning voters, were surprised to see the on-campus polling stations missing in this election.
“That definitely would’ve made it a lot easier,” said Sarah Gawronski, a second-time voter. “I would’ve been able to walk down and vote quickly.”
Transportation is another key issue the loss of on-campus polling exacerbated.
“On the voting day, I had three classes and then commute on top of that,” said Armander Atwal, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University who decided to vote in the advance polls. “It would be really hard to go actually vote so, having something on campus that I could just go between my classes would be really useful.”
Despite the concern the pandemic election may have discouraged some young people from voting, new voters like White-Roy are intent on making it a lifelong tradition.
“Me, personally, I’m always going to vote,” he said. “It felt good, especially after waiting for so long.”