Voting the hard way

By Katy Anderson

In the developing world, from Haiti to Kenya, there are often troubles reported with the voting process. However, here in Alberta, citizens also encountered several roadblocks on their way to the polls.

A lagging website with voting station information, long lineups, conflicting information and no city-wide polls have all been complaints made about the province’s election.

The morning of the election, the Elections Alberta website was going extremely slow, making it difficult for potential voters–especially first-timers–to determine where their polling station was.

Students’ Union vice-president external Mike Selnes noted that many students came by the SU office to find information on where to vote because they weren’t able to find it online. Even Selnes himself had trouble finding out his voting location due to the problems with the Elections Alberta site.

Elections Alberta spokesperson Teresa Atterbury explained that it’s hard to anticipate how many people are going to log on at a particular time and noted that there were other ways for voters to get the locations of their polling stations.

“We provided voters with multiple ways to get information about how they voted throughout the whole, month-long election process,” said Atterbury. “There were two sets of ads put in the local newspapers, people who were registered voters received where-to-vote cards.”

However, Selnes doesn’t think Elections Alberta went far enough to ensure there would be no major problems.

“That resonates they weren’t prepared for this election,” he said. “If, on election day, for three to four hours or whatever that time period was, your online information is down, that’s incredibly bad. I think a lot of people became disenfranchised when they said, ‘I don’t know where to find the information’.”

Liberal MLA re-elect Harry Chase was also alarmed by the large number of potential voters that called into his constituency office trying to navigate their confusion on where their polling station was. He also noted there were problems with locations of some of the polling stations.

“The worst example that I saw in terms of geographic misplacement and poor signage was the married student quarters [on campus],” said Chase. “When they took the polling booth out of MacEwan Hall, they forced all the potential students from the residences–who were potentially legitimate, long-term residence students–over to the married quarters and it was like going through a maze.”

Chase pointed to long lineups at several polling stations as another barrier, citing concerns over identification. Many of those without photo identification “got discouraged and left.” Chase called for a universal identification policy that applies to all elections, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal.

Chase also stressed the importance of ensuring that students are able to pick their permanent residence and not be limited to voting in their home riding.

“What needs desperate reform is where a student is allowed to cast the vote, because if a person is living primarily in Calgary and they’re affected by Calgary inflation, Calgary rules of the road, the high costs of food, the high costs of tuition and so on, then [it’s] taxation without representation,” said Chase. “It’s going back to the Boston tea party example, where they don’t get to vote where their lives are impacted as students.”

While gathering information on how residence students could vote, Selnes received information from Elections Alberta that students could choose their permanent residence. He was later told by some Returning Officers that students would have to vote in their home ridings–that of their parents–only to be told conflicting information by other ROs.

Selnes stressed that he’d like to see changes in the provincial voting system from Elections Alberta going out of their way to ensure students have information at their fingertips, to doing the legwork to enable a campus poll.

“I’m really hoping that in the next three to four years we can push for some reforms in the elections act to make it easier for students to vote and specifically to ensure that we can get a Calgary-wide poll on campus,” said Selnes.

Selnes pointed to the success of the city-wide poll in the municipal election and the record number of students that voted. He explained that more students would feel like it’s in their capacity to vote.

“If we want to encourage young people to vote and to encourage students to vote– for most of them this is their first chance voting in Alberta–we should make it easy, not difficult,” said Selnes.

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