Engaging young voters will be just as challenging this year for municipal politicians as in years past, after the University of Victoria Students’ Society’s hopes of acquiring a regional advance voting booth were doused by the municipalities.
Dylan Sherlock, a director with the UVSS, says he was told last week that there weren’t enough resources to allow for the Saanich campus to host a joint Victoria-Oak Bay-Saanich advance poll.
“Unfortunately when it comes to issues like democracy, municipalities move at a slow pace, and this probably requires a lot more advanced planning,” Sherlock acknowledged. “I know (the idea) has made a considerable impact on the discussions among politicians in Victoria. A lot of them have said they’re interested in this idea.”
Though many UVic students live on campus or in the surrounding Saanich communities, a lot commute from Victoria and Oak Bay on a daily basis, Sherlock said. Having an advance poll on campus where students living in any of these municipalities could vote would allow for better political engagement.
Carrie MacPhee, Saanich’s deputy chief elections officer said the decision was made jointly after lengthy discussions with elections officers in Victoria and Oak Bay.
“With the resources we have this year we can’t add special voting opportunities. If we do it for UVic we must do it for the (two Camosun campuses and all high density areas),” she said. “What we hope to do, in conjunction with city staff, is meet with the UVic Students’ Society to talk about what we can do to help them improve communication about the election.”
Victoria’s deputy chief elections officer, Don Schaffer, said the Local Government Act does allow for an advance poll outside of jurisdictional boundaries, “but you have to be able to make it work. We didn’t think that was possible right now. Without considerably more planning and thought, we decided it wasn’t going to work out.”
Saanich mayoral candidate David Cubberley says the decision “sends the wrong message” to a group of young people showing they’re interested in municipal politics.
“There should be a commitment (from municipalities) to expand opportunities for democracy to students,” he said. “Students are among the least likely to participate. … One of the reasons that people don’t vote is they’re not aware of the election process, there isn’t a direct connection to adequately inform them that the chance to vote is coming.”
Mayor Frank Leonard says he was open to the idea, saying if more time is needed to establish an advance poll, then staff should begin looking ahead to the next election in 2014.
“Students will still have the opportunity to use the poll at Campus View elementary school – it’s as close to UVic as most residents are to (their nearest polling station),” he said. “Certainly we’ll be encouraging those who live on campus to use that poll. And those who live throughout the municipality, we’ll make them aware of the polling stations.”
Oak Bay Coun. Tara Ney strongly supported the idea when Sherlock spoke to that municipality’s council in June.
“The more accessible we make our places where people can vote, the better. And we really want to engage this age group,” she said. “I think it’s really too bad, especially when we have young people coming forward and wanting to open the door here and we can’t make this happen.”
Though disappointed, Sherlock says he appreciates that the municipalities are helping the UVSS figure out strategies to engage students in different ways.
“The fact that this is a strange idea, that (a regional advance poll) hasn’t been proposed throughout many municipalities in the country speaks to a grave issue in our democracy,” he said. “We’re going to need to step up voter engagement on the campus so students who live on and off campus feel enfranchised.”
A student’s decision
Anyone who has lived in B.C. for at least six months (as of Nov. 19) is eligible to vote in the municipal election.
Students who have come from elsewhere in the province to study in Greater Victoria must decide if they want to vote here or in their “home” municipality.
“You can only vote in one municipality, so as a student, you have to decide if this is your new home or if you’re going to vote where you came from,” MacPhee said.
For more information, visit www.municipalelections.com.