Caught in a perfect storm
I have had a hard time coming up with an adequate term that accurately reflects the 2011 election, as it relates to students across Canada. I have settled on the idea of a perfect storm.
A perfect storm can be defined as “a particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors.”
That is probably the best way to describe this election for students: a series of correlated factors that seek to drastically hamper the capacity of students to vote.
Firstly, the election comes at a terrible time for students. The school year is ending, with many students working their way through exams and term papers at the end of April and there is the annual mad rush by students to find or extend meaningful employment or to move home and save money for next year.
“But Chris,” you say, “students could have voted in advance polls on April 22, 23 and 25.” In fact, there was tremendous turnout in the Waterloo Region during the advance polling periods.
Yet, this belies the underlying difficulties faced by any student voting at the advanced polls. Know anyone who left town to be with family over the Easter weekend?
Lest we forget that the Easter Weekend almost altered the voting patterns around Laurier. St. Michael’s Church has been a mainstay for advanced polling for a number of years near the university. Unfortunately an Easter weekend advanced poll is, well, on Easter.
This means that St. Michael’s was in use and student voting was to be moved outside reasonable walking distance for Laurier students. Thankfully I was able to work with Wilfrid Laurier University Students Union (WLUSU) President Kyle Walker and Elections Canada staff to move the advance poll to St. Mike’s campus.
“Ok, ok Chris, but you are forgetting the special ballot.” No, actually, I’m not. The special ballot is a lifeline for students who may have no other opportunity to vote. A special ballot is used when they are unable to make their local advanced poll or the general election.
The special ballot allowed hundreds of students to vote in the 2011 federal election when they would otherwise not have been able to cast a ballot in the riding of their choice.
However, the special ballot is required to be completed by April 26. There is no flexibility on that date and if students had been forced to use a special ballot to vote, they would have had to have done so a full two weeks before the general election.
This is crucial when you consider that much of the federal campaigning occurred throughout the exam period.
So you can vote at any time via a special ballot, but you won’t be given enough time to digest all the elections related campaign information and will have to vote well before the end of campaigning.
Anyone else feel alienated yet? There were, however, a few bright spots out there for students. Firstly, there were a lot of people at WLUSU who were willing to put in a lot of hours to bring the federal election to students.
Secondly, the local and national staff at Elections Canada went above and beyond in their attempts to engage students at Laurier.
They worked with WLUSU to plan for voter registrations, explained special balloting, provided posters and promotions material and worked to set up a student-focused advanced polling station.
Even at the Elections Canada office in Ottawa, I was very well received when I formally appealed the advanced polling days.
Elections Canada made it clear that if students wanted to vote, they would do as much as they could in order to meet their needs.
See, as I said, it was a perfect storm. For those of you that were fortunate enough to vote — good for you, you had a lot to overcome to do so.
For those of you that could not, I’d love to hear about it. There is another election on the horizon and we’d love to hear your perspective in order to bring out the student vote even more.