No on-campus voting leaves N.B., N.S. students disappointed

Click to play video: 'N.B. post-secondary students won’t be able to vote on campus'
N.B. post-secondary students won’t be able to vote on campus
WATCH: When Canadians decide their next federal government this September, post-secondary students won’t be able to vote on campus as in previous elections. Elections Canada broke the news to students in a statement posted to Twitter. Travis Fortnum reports. – Aug 27, 2021

When college and university students across Canada cast their ballot in the 44th general election, they’ll have to do so off-campus.

The agency responsible for administering federal elections says it wasn’t able to revive its Vote on Campus program in time for election day after it was put on ice when COVID-19 hit.

“Elections Canada has been preparing for this election since the last election,” spokesperson Françoise Enguehard told Global News.

“But the snap election was called and basically there was no time to do all the necessary work to do this.”

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The Vote on Campus program started as a pilot project of the agency in 2015, bringing returning offices to post-secondary schools.

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Elections Canada says 110,395 votes were cast on campuses Canada-wide in 2019. Many of those votes were believed to be first-time voters like Tyler MaGee.

“I lived in residence at the time so I just rolled out of bed and crossed the quad to go cast my ballot,” they say.

MaGee, now president of the student union at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, was one of 631 people to vote at that campus alone — with 2,682 votes cast on campus across New Brunswick.

In Nova Scotia, 4,504 people voted across five campuses.

“That’s a pretty sizable number,” says Lydia Houck, executive director of Students Nova Scotia.

Without on-campus voting, she says it’s going to be challenging to match those figures this trip to the polls.

“Students are disappointed,” says Houck, “absolutely disappointed to see that this program is not in place.”

Acknowledging the factors that went into Elections Canada’s call, she says students need to be well informed about the alternatives they have.

Those include mail-in ballots — which the agency is banking on being a popular choice as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on — and off-campus polling stations.

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Students attending school away from their home riding who wish to vote there will have to vote by mail or at an Elections Canada returning office.

Houck hopes the extra steps won’t discourage student voters from casting their vote.

“I think one of the misconceptions that a lot of youth have is that their single vote isn’t going to make a difference,” she says.

Having taken advantage of on-campus voting as they encourage racialized Canadians to get involved in politics, Operation Black Vote fears it might.

“The purpose of our democracy is to make it easy for people to vote,” chair Velma Morgan says.

“In particular students right now are a large demographic, and now we’re taking one tool away that makes it easy for them to vote.”

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Nova Scotia Students’ Vision for Post-Pandemic Recovery

Enguehard says the agency aims to maintain ease of access – even if it means leaving campus.

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“The returning officers are doing all they can to try and find polling locations as close to campus as they can.”

She says mail-in ballots can be requested online through a process easy enough for youth to navigate.

At St. Thomas University, MaGee says the Student Union is in communication with Elections Canada to have a liason keep students informed on their options – with hopes to match, if not beat, turnout seen in 2019.

Elections Canada says it’s committed to bringing back the Vote on Campus program for Election 45.

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