UBC voters frustrated after waiting over 3 hours past polls closing to cast ballot

·3 min read
Voters, mostly students, wait in line to cast their ballot at the only polling station on campus at the University of British Columbia on Sept. 20.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Voters, mostly students, wait in line to cast their ballot at the only polling station on campus at the University of British Columbia on Sept. 20. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

University of British Columbia student Andre Ramkairsingh waited more than 3½ hours to vote at the only on-campus polling station Monday, earning himself the title of one of the last Canadians to cast a vote in the 2021 general election.

He was one of many on campus left frustrated with the voting process and how it was organized.

"It seems like it was already kind of decided by the end, but I figured I may as well just go anyway," Ramkairsingh said with a heavy sigh.

Throughout election day, long lines could be seen snaking from the voting station through the halls of UBC, with many people, a large number of them students, waiting upward of three hours to cast a ballot.

UBC estimates that around 14,000 people live in campus neighbourhoods, in addition to the 12,800 people living in student housing. Neighbouring the campus are the University Endowment Lands, which have a population of around 3,000, according to UBC.

It's unclear how many voters were directed to the campus voting station.

But long after the election had already been called and the Liberal Party had secured a minority government, voters were still waiting.

Ramkairsingh joined the line just before 7 p.m. PT, when the polls were supposed to close in B.C. He said he cast his ballot at 10:38 p.m.

"The whole day, it was just a long, long line. I thought it was going to get shorter but it didn't," said Ramkairsingh, who felt he had to persevere despite how unenthused he felt.

"I feel like you're supposed to do it. It's your duty. That's how democracy works."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

First-year student Paige Holmes says she didn't expect to be waiting so long, especially after it took her mother in the Kootenays less than 20 minutes to cast her ballot.

"It was a little frustrating, especially hunger-wise. It was frustrating but understandable. They were doing their best," she said.

UBC president Santa Ono shared his disappointment over the "extraordinarily long wait times" for voting on campus.

"We must do better to ensure students and the university community have convenient and equitable access to voting," he tweeted on Tuesday.

Elections Canada says it was grateful to electors in the UBC area for their patience and commitment to the democratic process.

"The lineups we are extremely sorry for," said spokesperson Andrea Marantz. "It was highly regrettable."

She said poll workers did everything they could in challenging circumstances to ensure a safe voting process, and added that Elections Canada will reflect on the issue and make changes.

The pandemic made it difficult to lease appropriate spaces for polling stations, Marantz said.

Vote on Campus program

Frustration with the long lineups came amid anger over the cancellation of a student voting program before the election.

Elections Canada introduced the Vote on Campus program in the 2015 election to encourage more university students to cast a special ballot at polling stations on campus.

It was scrapped this year, with Elections Canada saying the short timeline of the snap election and the ongoing pandemic complicated the rollout of the program, which usually requires co-ordination with university administrations and student associations.

A petition asking for the program's return, claiming that scrapping it amounted to voter suppression, gained more than 20,000 student signatures.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Gerald Baier, a professor of political science at UBC, tweeted that he was proud of students for waiting for hours on election day but it shouldn't have been necessary.

"I'm livid about the absolute failure that was Elections Canada's decision to not run the student vote program. It's proven to help youth turnout. No excuses," he wrote.

But Marantz is confident the program will return.

"We are completely committed to bringing back the Vote on Campus porgram. It will be back," she said.

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