For the first time in six years, Elections Canada announced that it will not be running it’s Vote on Campus program leading up to the federal election.
The program, which was started as a pilot project in 2015 to help students vote in their home ridings while away at school, was expanded to 109 post-secondary institutions across Canada. For many students, this will be the first election they will not be able to rely on the program to help them vote.
“I think there’s a misconception that it’s just about placing polling booths on campuses,” says Andrea Marantz, Elections Canada’s media relations advisor for British Columbia.
“For the actual office, it was more like a returning office than like a polling place. We needed a great deal of IT, because if you’re voting at a returning office away from home … you have to write on the name of your candidate. So it’s not a matter of putting an ‘x’ [next to a candidate’s name] anymore.”
According to Marantz, the combination of the short time frame of the election and the closure of most universities due to the pandemic meant that they weren’t able to prepare the necessary equipment and personnel to run the program this year.
Marantz says that Elections Canada is trying to get the word out that these special ballots are still available outside of Vote on Campus.
“Any student can go to a returning office and register and get a special ballot, where they write on, and they can vote at their home address,” she says.
Marley Gillies, board chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, says the cancellation of the Vote on Campus program could impact many students’ ability to cast their vote away from home.
“The program definitely makes voting more accessible,” says Gillies. “Students already face lots of challenges when voting, and of course the pandemic has only intensified these barriers as well.”
Gillies says frequent address changes, a lack of incentives, and a general confusion around the elections process create barriers for students, and said that the lack of Vote on Campus serves to increase these barriers.
However, Gillies says that CASA wants “to make sure that voting is still accessible, and still an opportunity that [students] choose to participate in regardless.”
Gillies says that CASA is focusing heavily on promoting mail-in voting among students.
“We are planning on giving students the relevant and timely information so that they can cast their ballot via mail. It is … the best alternative to the Vote on Campus program because it utilizes a special ballot that lets students vote for whatever riding they can provide ID for, regardless of where they are at that particular moment.”
Marantz says that Elections Canada is also encouraging students to consider voting by mail.
“Some of the IT resources that we would have used if we’d been able to run the Vote on Campus program we’ve transferred into the vote by mail program to help that run smoothly because we know a lot of students will be using that.”
The Canadian federal election is Sept. 20, with advanced voting days from Sept. 10 to Sept. 13.