Students shut out of democratic process

Draconian election laws may prevent many students from voting

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With the sincerity of a pornographer in front of an obscenity board, students are encouraged to vote.

Mar. 3, 2008 will see the first provincial election since King Ralph abdicated his throne. In addition to offering the province a chance to pass judgement on a leader who has elicited considerable controversy, this election presents students the opportunity to force post-secondary education into the limelight of provincial politics. An opportunity of extreme importance as Alberta students live in the wealthiest province in the country and pay some of its highest costs for education. Unfortunately for University of Calgary students, current election regulations make it absurdly difficult to vote.

The problem is due to the transient nature of the student population. Many students come from other parts of the province or country and so find residence for the duration of the school year. Despite fleeing their parents for the sake of education and sanity, many students leave as a parting gift for the folks who have raised them a steady collection of bills. In many cases, it is simply too much of a hassle to continue changing one's official residence when living somewhere for eight months, then going home for the summer only to return to yet another address the following school year. Though this practice is understandable, it is problematic come election time. Students can only vote in the riding to which their bills are delivered.

Thus, many students who live in the Calgary-Varsity riding for two-thirds of the year cannot actually vote there. Rather, in order to vote they have to obtain a special ballot. While not an obstacle requiring Herculean effort to overcome, it is enough of a bother that it will prevent many students from peeling themselves off of the couch. The pitfall of this is, of course, that without students voting, student interests won't be represented in the provincial legislature. This means that students have little influence over things like tuition and affordable housing, so instead of studying, they spend their time making cucumber sandwiches at the local delicatessen.

While it is certainly irresponsible of students to be lazy enough to allow this to happen, it is also irresponsible of Elections Alberta to hinder students' capacity to vote. A new system needs to be implemented.

U of C students should be able to vote in the Calgary-Varsity riding instead of their billed-to district if they choose. By providing the option for students to vote in a riding where they may in fact live for the majority of the year and which will be accessible on voting day, there would almost certainly be a higher turnout. Not only this, it would provide for an increased representation of student interests in the provincial legislature. A concentration of student voters in the U of C area makes the chance of electing an official who would honestly and effectively pursue student interests much higher than the supposed representation that students garner with their voices spread thin across the rest of a province that can't hear them over the pulsing roar of the oil rigs.

It would be simple to create a provision enabling students to vote easily. All it requires is a system whereby students declare that they wish to vote in the riding of their university, in the process renouncing their ability to do so where their bills reside. To avoid excessive confusion it might be required that students provide proof of enrolment at the university. It shouldn't be too difficult to develop a mechanism for the successful implementation of this or similar policy. The bungling of such a program would require a measure of ineptitude that surely no Alberta bureaucracy could ever be accused of.

As politicians are often quoted as saying, education is an investment in the future, so having a voice in government committed to the best possible provision of such an education cannot be a bad thing. There is an alarming inconsistency in the position of encouraging students to vote while at the same time making it so difficult that it borders on disenfranchisement. Efforts need to be made to promote student suffrage if we're ever to improve youth turnout.