The president of Manitoba’s largest university students’ union says he’s disappointed post-secondary students won’t have access to polling stations on campus during next month’s federal election, but he understands this isn’t a normal election year.
In a statement to Global News Winnipeg, Elections Canada said on-campus voting has been scrapped this year due to both the pandemic and a minority government and the possibility of a snap election made planning too difficult.
In this case, the Sept. 20 federal election was called two years early and with only five weeks to prepare.
“In the past, the university has had the polling station on campus, which has been very easy for students to go and vote. There was even early polling stations at the university,” said Brendan Scott, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU).
“Already, students probably feel apathetic to some federal elections due to just not feeling that they can make a difference in federal elections, so we never want the locations of polling stations to also be a barrier towards students voting.
“But … for the most part, students won’t even be on campus in the fall.”
Scott says a recent UMSU survey found roughly just a third of University of Manitoba students will actually be on campus on a daily basis this fall.
Elections Canada spokesperson Matthew McKenna said uncertainty around how many students would be returning to the classroom — and how much of an impact the on-campus polling stations would have — led officials to rethink their approach for this election.
“We opted to instead reallocate resources to other areas where we could be confident that the benefits for electors, including students, would be maximized,” McKenna said, adding that voting by mail and early voting options were instead enhanced for the snap election.
“As soon as the decision was taken, we worked with student organizations to make sure students were well aware of all their other voting options.”
McKenna says students can vote early using the same special ballots they would have through the Vote on Campus program either by mail or at any Elections Canada office.
He said that will still allow students to cast a ballot in the riding they consider home to be even if they’re living outside of that riding while they study.
Students can apply online to vote by mail.
Advance or election day polling stations will also be set up near on or near campuses wherever possible, McKenna added.
“We know students face unique barriers to voting, and we remain committed to addressing those barriers at every opportunity,” he said.
“We will continue to work closely with students and student organizations to make sure that their voices are heard and their needs are met.”
Scott said UMSU will be running a get-out-the-vote campaign, and will be working hard to make sure students get all the information on where and how to vote.
“It’s really important for students to vote,” he said. “There’s close to a million students in post-secondary institutions and when they all get out and vote, they really make a difference.”
–With files from Corey Callaghan