OTTAWA — Elections Canada should reconsider its decision to not have on-campus voting stations in an effort to make voting more accessible for young people, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday.
On the campaign trail in Winnipeg, Singh said on-campus voting is "an effective tool" to encourage young voters to cast their ballots in the Sept. 20 federal election.
"People know their campus, students know where to go and it is a better way to engage more people," he said.
"I am concerned about this.... We raised these concerns early on when Elections Canada was analyzing how they would be conducting a pandemic election and we said we want on-campus voting"
Elections Canada said it made "the difficult decision" last year not to provide polling stations on campus.
Spokesman Matthew McKenna said setting up polling stations involves lengthy planning, wasn't possible during the pandemic and in a minority Parliament situation.
He said Elections Canada has been working with student organizations to inform students of their other voting options including advance voting and voting by mail.
"We don't want students to feel discouraged from voting," he said in a statement.
"We encourage all students who wish to vote in this election to consider voting early by special ballot. They can vote by mail, or at any Elections Canada office that is convenient for them."
McKenna said voting early allows students to cast a ballot in the riding they consider to be home, even if they’re living outside it to attend school
He said students can also apply online to vote by mail, so Elections Canada can send them a voting kit that includes a return envelope with prepaid postage.
Students can also vote in person before election day at any local Elections Canada office set up in all of the 338 ridings, he said.
The deadline to apply to vote by mail or at an Elections Canada office is 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 14.
Young people can also still vote at their assigned advance or election day polling station, McKenna said.
"For those whose home is on or near campus, as long as they have acceptable proof of ID and address, this process should be no different than for any other elector," he said.
"For those who are away from home, if they can, they may travel back to their home riding to vote."
He said students who moved recently to a student residence can request a letter from their university or college to proof their address.
McKenna said Elections Canada officers are working on identifying on-campus locations for use as advance and election day polling locations.
"While only those assigned to those polls may vote there, they offer an additional, convenient option for many students who consider their on-campus residence to be home."
"With the ongoing evolution of the pandemic and the fact that some campuses are adopting new health and safety policies, it is possible that fewer on-campus locations will be used for advance and election day polling than in previous elections."
Liberal candidate Bardish Chagger said the lack of on-campus voting has prompted her to increase her efforts to encourage students to participate in the election.
She said her work includes helping young people find local polling stations, and she hopes Elections Canada will focus on providing alternatives for students, too.
"In the past two federal elections, young Canadians voted in higher numbers than they had in decades, which was made possible through initiatives like special polling stations on campuses," she said in a statement Thursday.
"Young Canadians have made huge sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in this pivotal, consequential moment, their voices need to be heard when it comes to the important choices about their future."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press