By Cristina Paolozzi, July 20 2021—
Elections Calgary will not be using the “vote anywhere” advanced polling stations on post-secondary campuses for the 2021 municipal election.
Although Elections Calgary is planning to officer 33 advanced polling stations across the city from Oct. 4-10, the use of the “vote anywhere” stations will not be available to community members — specifically students — planning to vote this fall.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, Marley Gillies, vice-president external and chair of the Calgary Student Alliance (CSA), spoke about the impact that this decision will have on voter turnout among students.
“The vote anywhere polling stations allow students to come to campus from wherever they are in the city to vote in the wards that they live in,” said Gillies. “It is the most accessible and realistic way to get students to actually vote.”
Gillies explained that the “vote anywhere” stations were used on the University of Calgary campus, as well as other post-secondary institutions, for the 2017 municipal election as well as the 2019 provincial election. She also mentioned that students in the community are used to voting this way and are therefore more familiar with the process.
“Not having [the ‘vote anywhere’ stations] is a huge step backwards and I’m really disappointed that Elections Calgary made this decision,” she said. “Voter turn-out among youth is already low, and making this decision will depress it even more.”
Gillies said that after consultations with Elections Calgary on their decision to remove the “vote anywhere” stations, Elections Calgary gave no indication that they would reverse their decision. Gillies said she will continue to advocate through CSA to get more information out to students.
As there is a possibility for a federal election this year, Gillies also said she has already started conversations with Elections Canada to ensure that voting stations on post-secondary institutions will be available then as well.
“We’re trying to be proactive with Elections Canada, to make sure that this doesn’t happen for a potential federal election,” she said. “It’s an issue that all students should be aware of, and affects all students and the way they could or couldn’t vote.”
Elections Calgary states on their website that they will not be using the “vote anywhere” stations as it might increase COVID-19 infections, citing potential risks to public safety if health restrictions were to return.
As a part of the advanced polling period, Gillies stressed that the “vote anywhere” stations are a major factor in voter turnout.
“Between the 2013 election and the 2017 election, the advanced polling numbers tripled,” said Gillies. “If we’re continuing the trend of encouraging people to vote in the advanced polls, but not making it easy to do so, it’s not going to continue in the same way, and it’s absolutely going to depress voter turnout.”
Gillies mentioned that although this year Elections Calgary has increased the advanced polling period, voter accessibility and outreach are still suffering.
“I know they’re increasing the advanced voting period, which is really great, but they’re making voting accessible for people who are already planning on voting,” she said. “We’re looking at the students and the community that otherwise will not vote.”
This municipal election, Calgarians will be handed seven ballots at the voting booth. With the number of issues being voted on, Gillies said that this could be an overwhelming experience for students, especially if they are relatively new to voting.
“This is a daunting experience for students who maybe this is their first election that they’ve ever voted in,” said Gillies. “And so feeling like this is something that, first of all [students] want to participate in, and second of all like they can participate in, that’s going to be a huge challenge.”
As a result of the “vote anywhere” stations not being used on post-secondary campuses, Gillies said the responsibility of not only empowering students to vote, but also informing them when and where to vote ultimately falls onto the student associations.
“Us, as student associations, take on the responsibility of educating students in a non-partisan way, as to what the election is, what’s happening and what their responsibility as voters are,” she said. “It’s Elections Calgary’s responsibility to make sure students have a place to go and do that, so by not having the ‘vote anywhere’ stations, it makes our job as student associations a lot harder.”
Ultimately, Gillies is shocked and concerned that Elections Calgary would even consider removing these “vote anywhere” stations, and does not feel that the reasons behind this decision justify the subsequent consequences that she is predicting.
“It will be a lot more difficult to educate students and make sure they are informed, while also telling them where and when they can vote,” she said. “Because it won’t be, as of now, on our campuses.”