Student groups from Calgary's post-secondary institutions are calling on Elections Calgary to restore what are known as "vote anywhere" advance polls for this fall's municipal election.
The Calgary Student Alliance, an organization representing more than 90,000 post-secondary students in the city, held a news conference Tuesday to promote voting accessibility.
The group said that in the 2017 election, Calgarians could vote at any advance poll, regardless of where they lived — making it easier for students to participate.
However, Elections Calgary says it will not have advance polls this fall due to operational concerns.
"It was important to establish a vote model that would reduce the risks of COVID-19 infections, in the event of a prolonged pandemic. Unlike in any previous general election, a 'vote anywhere' may introduce potential risks to public safety, should public health restrictions return," read a release by Elections Calgary issued June 30.
Should public health restrictions return, the agency plans to provide additional voting stations closer to residences, additional advance voting hours, assigning voters to specific stations as well as reducing crowding by providing physical distancing.
Marley Gillies, chair of the alliance, says there is no reason these polls can't be run safely at campuses.
"Our campuses are huge places, they're meant to host a lot of people. If it's safe for students to return to campus, then it should be safe to return to the advance voting, vote anywhere polls," she said.
Gillies, who is also vice-president external for the Students' Union at the University of Calgary, said student associations are more than ready to work with Elections Calgary to ensure vote anywhere polls are on campus.
"For students who are studying on campus, who are studying full time, have a part-time maybe full-time jobs and have people to care for, [they] need the convenience and need the accessibility of that on-campus voting — regardless of where they come from in the city."
According to a release on Tuesday from the alliance, nearly 5,000 voters in 2017 cast ballots during the advance vote on post-secondary campuses.
Councillor agrees with students
Coun. Evan Woolley also attended the students' conference, where he said he supports their call for more advance polls.
"This is actually like some pretty simple requests.… We have the maps of where we put the stations last time. We need to hire some people. We need to print some more ballots," he said.
Woolley, councillor for Ward 8, adds that even if there is an additional expense, it's worth it to make it easier for voters to cast a ballot.
"Why don't we have massive polling stations downtown? Why don't we have polling stations in universities? We need to bring democracy to where people are, and, inherently, our system doesn't do that."