Numerous Mount Allison students left the polls on Oct. 19 feeling frustrated and discouraged. Many of these students attributed this frustration to long lines, difficulty registering at the polls and a disparity in how Sackville residents and students were treated. Waiting times at the Civic Centre polling station were over two hours for some students, especially those who needed to register as well as vote on Election Day.
Ryan LeBreton, a fourth-year student, waited in line at the Civic Centre for 2½ hours. He said the way staff dealt with students compared to older residents seemed unequal.
“Throughout the time I was there, you could tell that any student who walked through the doors [the staff] already assumed that they didn’t register and weren’t prepared,” said LeBreton. “This wasn’t always the case.”
LeBreton said he was kept in a very small foyer for up to 40 minutes before being allowed into the main polling area. He said it was mostly students who were made to wait in the room, while older residents were often able to jump ahead.
For some students, the long wait at the Civic Centre was enough to deter them from voting. Zack Gaudet, a fourth-year student, explained how he and his roommates decided not to vote after hearing someone, who was not far ahead of them in the line, state that they had already been waiting there for an hour. “As for the actual experience, I do regret not getting to vote,” said Gaudet.
Ola Drisdelle, returning officer for the Beauséjour riding, said the report he received from the Civic Centre outlined a sudden influx of students needing to register at the polls. “There was a situation where there were more than we could handle for a small lapse of time, but I think at the end of the day, as I recall, I was told everyone had a chance to vote,” he said.
Drisdelle received no report of any differentiated treatment toward students and older residents. He said having a polling station on campus, however, would likely have been helpful in alleviating the long lines. “I do think that more could be done,” he said.
Fourth-year student Meghan Boyd said she waited an hour and a half to register to vote at the Civic Centre. Boyd said her first voting experience was poorly organised and confusing.
“If people want more students to get involved, I think they should make it easier for students,” said Boyd. “It’s not like we have an hour and a half on a school night to go and wait.”
Boyd also felt there was a disparity in the way students were treated compared to other residents. “There was definitely a line drawn between who was a student and who wasn’t,” she said.
Other out-of-province students had a difficult time proving their residence during voter registration. Third-year student Katharyn Stevenson said she had to register on election day because online registration would not recognize her Sackville address.
At the Civic Centre, Stevenson also had difficulty registering in person because her utility bill had been sent to her mailbox at the student centre and not to her apartment’s address. “We’re in the middle of re-signing our lease so I don’t have a lease,” she said. “This was the only hard-copy bill that I could get that had a Sackville address.”
Stevenson said she was eventually able to register “after some convincing—I was almost begging [the poll worker].” She described how the Elections Canada website – where she read to bring a utility bill – did not clearly define exactly what was needed to register. She said having a polling office on campus would have made voting more conducive for students.
For the 2015 election, Elections Canada launched a pilot project to open polling offices on 38 campuses, 13 Friendship Centres and two YMCAs. The main criteria for choosing which campuses would receive offices focused on the size of the institution and its regional representation. In this election, over 70,000 electors registered and voted at these pilot locations.
Serge Fleyfel, a media relations spokesperson for Elections Canada, said Canada’s 10 largest universities were contacted first, some of which had more than one polling station. An assessment of the pilot project is currently underway. Fleyfel said if the pilot is deemed successful, it could potentially be expanded upon in future elections.
“There will be an evaluation and maybe in four years there can be more campuses a part of it,” said Fleyfel. “It was a pilot project, so all the universities could not have been included.”
The Mount Allison Students’ Union looked into having a polling station on campus, but were unable to meet the pilot’s criteria. Annie Sherry, MASU’s vice-president of external affairs, says she was in communication with the local Elections Canada office, the Beauséjour Returning Officer, and Ottawa in regard to this inquiry.
“I had heard from a couple people that lineups were long,” said Sherry. “This is reason enough to make sure we have polling stations on campus.”
As a part of the Get Out the Vote campaign championed by the MASU, over 850 Mt. A students pledged to vote. Sherry said the percentage of the Mt. A student population that pledged is in line with what other universities received. She said there has been discussion within the MASU to look into making policy that would advocate for on-campus polling offices in future elections.