Voting at Select Campuses, Friendship Centres and Community Centres During the 2015 Federal Election
In preparing for the 2015 election, Elections Canada explored a variety of initiatives to help increase access to voting for certain target groups, including youth and Aboriginal electors. Both of these groups have historically had rates of electoral participation below the average. In various surveys and evaluations, these groups have cited a range of reasons for not voting. The most frequently cited are issues related to life circumstances (such as being too busy, or living away from home) and barriers to accessing the vote (such as a lack of awareness of the voting process, or transportation issues).
To help increase access to voting for these groups, Elections Canada launched a pilot project to open temporary offices in locations regularly frequented by youth and Aboriginal electors. The aim was to offer additional options for registering and voting in locations that may be more convenient to these electors. In total, 71 offices were opened at 39 post-secondary campuses, 13 Friendship Centres and 2 community centres. Those visiting the offices were able to register and vote on site, or simply update their information. Offices were open over four consecutive days (October 5 to 8, 2015), for up to 10 hours per day. While the initiative primarily targeted youth and Aboriginal electors, offices were open to any eligible voter who wished to use them.
Voting at the election offices was done by special ballot. This meant that no matter where the office was located, votes counted in the elector's home riding (that is, the riding where their home address is located). This feature made the offices a particularly convenient option for electors who were outside their riding during the election period, like students living on campus away from home.
In all, a total of 70,231 electors used these offices to register and vote. This turnout accounted for about 9% of the total targeted population. Some 78% of the votes were from electors who were outside their home riding, many of whom may not have been able to make the trip back home to vote at advance polls or on election day. A majority of those who completed an exit survey on their experience indicated that the offices provided a more convenient way to vote. A quarter of respondents noted that they would not have voted, or were not sure if they would have voted, had these offices not been available.
In the months leading up to the 2015 election, Elections Canada consulted widely with organizations that represent student and Aboriginal electors. The organizations were supportive of the initiative and provided insights on how the program could be tailored to best meet the needs of the groups they represent. They also validated the criteria to select office locations for the pilot project, including the size of the community served by the institution, its regional location (to ensure representation across the country), its accessibility and the availability of suitable space.
Offices were opened in a limited number of institutions so that Elections Canada could measure demand for the service and gather feedback from electors to inform any larger implementation in future elections.
The pilot project reached its objective of making the electoral process more convenient and accessible to the youth and Aboriginal electors it targeted. Voter turnout at the various sites was significant, and feedback from stakeholders and the electors who used the service was very positive. As a result, Elections Canada is exploring options for moving forward with the project in the next election. Consideration will be given to various scenarios, including an increase in the number of office locations and possibly expanding the initiative to other groups that face voting barriers.
As always, Elections Canada's goal is to increase access to the electoral process for all electors. The decision to move forward with the initiative will depend on whether or not it remains a feasible, viable and cost-effective option for meeting this goal in the context of the next general election.