Voting will ‘require students to plan ahead’

WATERLOO, Ont. (CUP) — Many are wondering if students will even be able to vote in the upcoming federal election with polling days scheduled at such an inconvenient time for the young voters.

With the election slated for May 2 and advanced polls announced for the Easter weekend, there has been growing concern about how student voter turnout will fare, considering the inconvenience of such a time for post-secondary students.

Chris Hyde, policy researcher and advocacy co-ordinator for Wilfrid Laurier University’s students’ union, described the current situation as a “perfect storm,” which could hinder voter turnout on campuses across the country.

It’s also a concern for Elections Canada, said Diane Benson of media relations.

“Voting at the time of the year that’s a very busy time for students certainly presents a challenge for them,” said Benson. “But what Elections Canada tries to do is offer as many options as possible.”

These options include voting by advanced ballot, by mail and by taking advantage of advanced polls.

“It does require students to plan ahead and go through a process depending on what voting process they choose, if they want to avoid the end of exam time period right when the election day happens,” Benson said.

Hyde is currently drafting a letter to the chief electoral officer of Canada regarding the issue in hopes that it will receive more attention.

“It really is almost a national issue and it’s a national issue that it receives a lot of attention because a lot of people are out there saying this isn’t fair to students,” he said. “But there aren’t a lot of people at the national level saying, ‘Here’s an alternative.’”

Hyde added that an advanced poll on the April 20 or 21 would help student voter turnout.

“Unfortunately, students are writing exams, finishing papers, are otherwise moving or looking for summer employment. All of these things work against students having the time to vote using a special ballot,” Hyde said.

He also mentioned how difficult it will be for students to vote in the ridings they live in while at school because most students go home for the Easter holiday, which will impede the use of advanced polls.

These sentiments were echoed by Elizabeth Dubois, a University of Ottawa fourth-year currently planning a youth rally.

“I really do think that it’s going to cause some big problems,” Dubois. “Without the significant conversations going on and some significant information getting out to students, we’re going to have a big problem with the youth turnout.”

And in ridings such as Kitchener-Waterloo, where Conservative MP Peter Braid won his seat by a very narrow margin in 2008, the student vote can be particularly important.

“For a riding such as this where last time it was decided by 17 votes, there’s a lot at stake here,” said Saad Aslam, a students’ union vice-president at Laurier. “It’s going to be interesting to see how many students take advantage of the advanced polls or will they just end up voting at home.”

Hyde stressed the importance of post-secondary students to be able to vote in the ridings they go to school in and often live in for four years while they attend post-secondary. However, many will no longer be residents of these ridings once the end of the semester comes and they return to their parents’ homes for the summer.

“It affects [students] because they’re not allowed to vote in a riding that may mean something to them,” Hyde said.

Although the dates of the election are inconvenient for students, Aslam and Dubois remained confident that post-secondary students will remain engaged in the election, though it will take some effort on the part of other students.

“It’s a really hard time for students right now, we’re in the middle of exams, we’re writing final papers,” Dubois said. “It’s not easy, but I think that youth are really getting behind this and using the tools we know how to use best like social media to really make sure that our voice is heard.”

Citing YouTube videos of rallies at the University of Guelph and the ongoing national coverage of two London youth who were kicked out of a Conservative rally, Dubois and Aslam agreed students are gearing up to be a large part of this year’s election.

“The dialogue around post-secondary has definitely started and it’s up to us and everyone else to keep it going,” concluded Aslam.

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