August 20, 2013 7:18 pm
Updated: October 15, 2013 12:39 pm

City making it easier for Edmonton’s homeless to vote in upcoming election

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EDMONTON – Mike Woitt has been on and off the streets for about the last 40 years, but that hasn’t stopped him from staying on top of current events.

“I read the paper every day,” he says. “I read the National, the Globe, the Edmonton Journal, the Edmonton Sun, I listen to the news.”

He also feels strongly about issues like the arena, and supports some of Justin Trudeau’s platforms.

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“I think there’s probably a great misconception on the part of the general public that inner city community members are disengaged, or apathetic or uninformed about the political issues that affect them,” says Daniel Johnson, Adult Resource Coordinator for Boyle Street Community Services. “And I found quite the opposite to be true. The folks I work with have a really incisive and informed opinion about political issues.”

While Woitt may be informed, he has never voted in a municipal election. This year, though, the City is making it more accessible for him and other vulnerable Edmontonians to exercise their democratic right.

“We’re very excited,” says Laura Kennedy, Director of Elections with the City of Edmonton “All voters should be afforded an opportunity to vote. And it was identified in 2007 that some of the homeless people didn’t have ID to vote, and you needed ID in 2007 to vote. So we came up with another way to allow them to vote.”

Since about 2007, a polling station has been set up at the Bissell Centre. Now, for the first time, that City is extending that opportunity to Boyle Street Community Centre,  and allowing staff to vouch for those who don’t have ID.

Johnson believes this will remove some of the barriers that some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable community members may experience.

“As you might imagine it can be intimidating going to the polls – being asked a bunch of questions about your housing situation, your address, things like that. So it’s going to be a space where people can vote, where they are comfortable. A lot of people call this their home.”

Kennedy hopes to see about 200 voters cast their ballots at each of the two inner city support centres on October 21. Woitt plans to be among them.

“I would vote,” he says. “I would come in and stick my checkmark or an ‘x’ whatever you do.”

With files from Laurel Clark, Global News

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