Your Help Please: Comments needed regarding Polling Station Locations

Your assistance with this matter through public comments to this thread would be most appreciated. 

Recently, I was approached by Elections Canada to participate in an all-parties discussion regarding polling stations in the Sudbury Electoral District. A list of polling stations from the last election in 2008 was provided. Now that I have a bit of a keener eye for these sorts of things, and after having heard some anecdotal stories, two things struck me as unusual about the list of polling stations. I’d like to share these items with you, and ask for feedback. 

Post-Secondary Institutes (Colleges and Universities): Although there are three post-secondary schools in Greater Sudbury (College Boreal; Cambrian College; and Laurentian University), all of which having at least one student residence, there are no polling stations located at these schools. Students would have to travel in some cases significant distances in order to cast their ballots. 

My question to you is whether or not it is normal for Elections Canada not to have polling stations at Colleges and Universities, given the "seasonal" nature of student occupation. In the last election, we did hear from students that it was difficult to vote in the Advance poll, given its location far from all 3 campuses, but there was no feedback that I am aware of regarding the actual neighbourhood polls. But that might just be because we didn’t follow-up. 

If you know of post-secondary institutes in your electoral district which have polling stations, I'd be intererested in finding out more about the number of students at the institute, and the number of students in residence, if you have that information available.

Polling Stations in Churches: The other thing which struck me as somewhat unusual are the number of polling stations which are located in churches. This was something we did get some feedback on during 2008, to the effect that since a polling station was located in a church, voters would be less likely to vote. In fact, some voters told us that they would never set foot in a church to cast a ballot, given that (to them anyway) churches were synonymous with oppression. Has anyone else encountered this sort of attitude amongst potential voters? 

For me, churches are located in strategic parts of our communities, and offer people voting locations which are generally accessible by foot. My previous concerns with churches had to do with parking (as some churches in this community are under-serviced by parking; but that’s not a big issue). It was only when out canvassing that I became aware of this other concern with churches as polling locations. 

Any feedback that you can provide would be appreciated. The meeting is next Monday, and I’d like to go with at least some national anecdotes about polling station locations, if not hard facts.

Thanks!

 

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My take.

Churches:

I do not see any issue with voting taking place in a church.

They really make the most sense often since voting does not happen on a Sunday and without having them there, it may nearly be impossible to find enough space.

If anyone has a serious problem they can go vote directly at the Electoral District Office. 

Universities:

In the riding I ran in, reaching out to students was identified as a priority.   We worked strongly with election officials, had three on campus polling stations (University of BC), the Returning Officer hired students to help with voter registration on campus and a strong commitment was put for them.  I believed there was advanced voting there as well.  We had concerns with making sure their was enough poll clerks in the afternoon, but I think that was met.

 The biggest item to focus on is pre-registration of students, and work with the university to ensure students addresses are passed onto elections officials so they get on the voting list and get notice of where they are to vote.  I'd encourage you to talk to the students associations or residents staff to make sure they are in touch with the Returning Officer so any Canadians get added to their lists already.  

The only challenge is that while you can get a polling station on campus, students can only vote in their own polling district.  So, if there is enough students in residences it should be easy to justify (UBC has a few thousand on campus), if it is a small number they may not warrant their own place. 

If you can't get ED to have an on campus station, you may want to consider working with the university to have a shuttle bus running for a few hours in the afternoon. Or rent one for your campaign.  

Try though as best you can, and back it up with numbers.

One of the things we did in my by-election, (we had more volunteers to help), was to have volunteers out on busy street corners/bus stops on election day with Green Party signs and vote today.  (you are allowed to campaign on election day, just not advertise or spend new money on election day.)  

We either had people with cell phones calling in our main office for voting locations or photocopied maps of the district and lists of polling stations near them. 

 

Toronto Centre polling stations

We have big areas of Ryerson U, UofT, & George Brown College in our riding.  

I was on the gpc election-day runner team for the 3/08 by-election on voting day. One location, a very large room in a UofT building, had a number of polling stations.  (Using the same location for several stations is typical in downtown T.O.)  Reaching it involved following several winding paths among various university buildings, then locating the proper entrance, and wending one's way down into the basement, then through various corridors.  The whole route was very well marked with plenty of signs.

I'll post again if I learn any Ryerson or George Brown details. 

Typical polling station locations here are schools, churches, and apartment buildings.  I've never heard the Sudbury church problem here, but perhaps others in Toronto have.  If it's an issue in Sudbury, I hope it's addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned there.

feedback from a Ryerson Green

Denis Agar emailed that Ryerson has a very small on-campus population, very intermingled with the rest of the city.  When he lived on campus, his polling station was in a the huge condo building that used to be the Sears warehouse and is next to/across from Ryerson buildings. 

He says it was rather convenient, but ideal would be student residence lobbies.  Places with very high visibility are 2d best.  He's yet another who emphasizes that voting is very low priority for students.  He urges ensuring students know how to vote, and that it will not take a long time.

He says if they need documentation from the school, make sure it's both delivered to their doors & waiting for them at the polling booth.  "The redundancy is key - having it delivered to their doors reminds them that voting is happening, but they won't carry it with them.  The booth will also remind them, but they won't have the documentation in hand and so they'll just give up.  The key is to make voting as apathy-proof as humanly possible.  On voting day, there need to be people there to tell students to vote.  Ideally, they shouldn't need anything more than what's on their person, and they should be able to do it then and there."

Partly up to owners

To a large extent, polling locations are dictated by which property owners are willing to donate or rent space for them. It is possible that your local post-secondary school isn't willing to provide space for this, or is asking exhorbitant rent. I have scrutineered at polling stations on university campuses, so I know it's possible.

Another factor is timing. Churches have a fairly regular schedule over the year, while schools have very cyclical schedules. Federal election dates are essentially random. So churches can commit months or years in advance to provide polling space, while a post-secondary may feel it might interrupt some timely activity, such as graduation ceremonies or other specific activities, thus being reluctant to commit. Your returning officer has to nail down as many polling locations as possible, and needs to avoid putting a lot of faith in "maybe" locations.

Another factor is voter list. While there may be many students living on campus, few of them will be registered on the voter list. Polls have to be drawn around voters.

You can certainly ask/urge your RO to locate a poll at a student residence, but be aware that there may be challenges or obstacles that aren't immediately apparent. No location is obliged to provide polling space.

Churches serve as community meeting halls and receive tax breaks for that reason, so they are a good location. Churches are also often well-located near voters (while campuses are often far from non-student voters). If someone is resistant to entering a church, they can vote at the returning office or in advance at some other location. Certainly there is no agenda to favour religious voters, and there is no guarantee that the church you vote at is one you agree with.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins, Barrie ON - although I'm on Cabinet (Nat'l Rev. and Ecol. Fiscal Reform), views here are my own and may not reflect official GPC positions. Please visit www.ErichtheGreen.ca