By: Alannah Page
The last federal election was decided just over a month ago and while many Canadians might have already put the thought of politics out of their mind, there are many people who didn’t make it to the polls despite being eligible voters.
By law, in order to be considered an eligible voter, you must meet the two following criteria, be 18 years of age or older and be a Canadian citizen. However, meeting these criteria can be a lot more difficult than they first appear and some of the four most significant barriers to voting impact the most vulnerable citizens in society.
- Not having a permanent address
When going to the polls the main requirement is that you present a valid driver’s license as proof of address and citizenship. However, it can be daunting for people who live on the streets or are in-between homes to go to the polls without a proof of address easily accessible.
According to the Elections Canada website, a homeless person can vote a few ways, such as showing a piece of I.D. with their names on it, like a fishing license, library card or Social Insurance card. Also, if you are staying at a shelter or other residence you can ask for a letter of confirmation to present at the polling station. Other solutions can be found on their website under the FAQ section.
A new mobile polling station system was recently established in Alberta’s last provincial election that saw polling stations being set up at the Calgary Drop-In Centre. The polling station allows multiple forms of identification which bridges the barrier to voting due to lack of I.D.
- Having a disability
Though many polling stations do what they can to accommodate physical disabilities in many rural locations it’s not always that simple. There may be a ramp-up to the voting area but something as simple as one elevated step can deter persons with a disability from casting their ballot.
According to 2017 data from statistics, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 or over have a disability. In 2015, 48 per cent of people attributed “everyday issues” which include being out of town, ill, or having a disability as the reason they did not vote.
In some circumstances, such as living in a long-term care facility, Election representatives may come to voters to ensure those with mobility issues get a chance to vote. Other solutions are ramps, accessible elevators and mail-in ballots for those who are unable to make it to the polling station.
- Being in prison
Since 2002, all people incarcerated in a Canadian prison have been allowed the right to vote Federally and Provincially. Prior to this only Canadians serving a sentence less than two years were eligible to cast a ballot.
According to CBC, in the 2015 Federal election, 22,362 people voted from prison but 7.5 per cent of ballots were rejected.
Inmates often have access to T.V. but not to the internet so they are forced to rely on what the media presents as the political parties’ message as opposed to doing their own research. This can often result in the inmates not knowing much about the person or party they are voting for.
Inmates are able to register to vote by filling out the Application for Registration and Special Ballot form and can vote only on the 12th day before the election as opposed to when all the other Canadians vote. Voting from prison is a bit different because instead of writing an X next to your preferred candidate’s name inmates must write out the full name of whoever they vote for and then put it in an envelope.
- Living on a reserve
According to research completed after the 2015 federal election 62 per cent of First Nations living on reserves voted, compared to 66 per cent of the non-First Nations population. This was the higher than in 2008 and preliminary reports show that voter turn out on reserves in the 2019 election surpassed previous years, with Alberta having the highest. Many people are attributing this rise in voter turn-out to the record-setting number of Indigenous candidates who ran for office in the last election. APTN reported that there were 62 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit candidates registered.
Despite the numbers rising there are significant barriers for those living on reserves when it comes to information around the election as well as access to polling stations. According to a blog post by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., things like identification, emotion and physical limitation can all pose a barrier to on-reserve voting.
This barrier can be bridged by factors that we saw emerge in the last election, such as more Indigenous representation in politics, accessible polling stations and political activism aimed at demanding change for Indigenous Canadians.
While voting remains a democratic right in the country, it can help to be mindful of those who are not able to exercise it due to lack of privilege. In addition to the list above, not having internet access, transportation and the ability to obtain information about the political parties are also barriers to voting that impact incarcerated, homeless and less fortunate Canadians.