When Shelby Brown opened her voter identification card, she was surprised to see where she had to go to cast her federal election ballot in the advance poll.
Brown, a voter in the Calgary Rocky Ridge riding, was assigned to a polling station at the Bearspaw Christian School, located off 144 Avenue N.W. and north of the Spyhill Landfill.
“When I arrived at the location at the Bearspaw Christian School, it appeared to me as if I was outside the city limits and was at a location where there was no transit,” Brown told Global News on Monday. “So my immediate thought was this is not accessible to all electors in this riding, especially those at a lower socioeconomic status but especially disabled electors.”
Brown has an autoimmune illness that impacts her health and on many days, her mobility.
She immediately filed a complaint with Elections Canada, to raise her concern about the accessibility of polling stations for those without a vehicle and voters with mobility aids.
“Even if the buildings themselves are accessible, that’s irrelevant if you can’t physically get there to vote,” Brown said.
In her complaint, Brown requested that it should be mandated that polling stations be placed near transit stops in municipalities with a transit system. She also requested a diverse and disabled advisory committee be struck to reassess Elections Canada’s accessibility criteria.
“The number of polling locations is chosen based on the number of electors in the electoral district, what locations are available for rent/lease and they must also meet set criteria,” Elections Canada said in a statement to Global News.
According to Elections Canada officials, there are 15 mandatory accessibility criteria locations must meet to become a polling station. It includes level access to the entrance, doors that can easily be opened, obstacle-free corridors, and good exterior and interior lighting.
“Even though public transit stops are number one on their list, they’re not a part of the mandated 15 criteria,” Brown said.
Brown visited the Elections Canada office in her riding to speak with a representative. She said the representative said the Bearspaw Christian School was the only available location for the advance poll.
“It was an interesting conversation that was had, just in terms of understanding the systemic factors that go into play as to where these voting offices are, and are they accessible and are they available for Elections Canada to book these venues,” Brown said.
In an effort to make voting easier for people unable to vote at advance polls, Elections Canada said there are alternative options. Officials told Global News that voters can cast a ballot at any Elections Canada office in the country until 6 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Voters can also request a mail-in ballot. Elections Canada is accepting requests until 2 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Ultimately, Elections Canada officials said there are more polling stations open on election day.
Many of the political parties are also offering rides to polling stations by voter request, but Brown said she is concerned that the vehicles the parties use may not be equipped with mobility aid equipment.
Brown was told she would hear from Elections Canada in the next six months, and hopes her complaint will spur changes to how the organization prepares for the next election. While her complaint regards accessibility at one polling station, she believes it’s a single piece of a larger issue across Canada.
“Women had to fight for the right to vote, Indigenous people didn’t have the right to vote until 1960, prison inmates didn’t have the right to vote until the early 2000s and disabled people didn’t have the full right to vote in Canada until the 1990s,” she said. “If our communities can’t be represented in elections results, then the laws and legislation that impact us will continue on the systemic, habitual path they’re on.”