The UPEI Student Union president says she's disappointed Elections Canada has dropped its Vote on Campus program for this fall's federal election.
Elections Canada says it is not offering the program this time due to "challenges brought on by the pandemic and the minority government situation."
That means polling stations won't be available on campus at either Holland College or UPEI, something union president Samantha MacLean said is concerning.
"I know back in 2015, as well as 2019, they were wildly successful on campus and gave students an opportunity to vote on campus. Definitely increased young-voter turnout and just broke down those barriers for young people to vote," she said.
"It just made things less complicated for students."
Green Party MLA Hannah Bell said the reasons Elections Canada canceled the program aren't justifiable.
"The excuses that are being given by Elections Canada, and they are excuses, are not acceptable," Bell said.
"If campus is safe enough for students to be there in person, it's safe enough for them to be able to vote."
There could have been a means to relieve the health concerns of voting on campuses, MacLean said.
It's happening at the time when people are going back to school. — Green MLA Hannah Bell
"A lot of universities are typically set up with large rooms that would be appropriate for social distancing. I believe it could have happened, but I understand that they said it couldn't."
Bell said she's concerned about why the "minority government situation" is a reason to cancel the program.
"I am very concerned about the stated challenge of a minority government having any impact on providing people opportunities to vote. We have known this election was coming for weeks."
Unfair to limit options
It's unfair to limit the options someone has to vote, she said.
"It feels like you're taking away the right of a group of people to have as many options as possible to vote," Bell said.
"That's why we have things like advanced polling days, we have long voting hours, we have special voting where you can go and vote at the returning office, you can vote by mail."
The Vote on Campus program is needed more than ever this year because of the timing of the election, Bell said. Students will be engaged with school work and readjusting to being on campus.
"It's happening at the time when people are going back to school. So we're already in a time which is stressful and busy," she said.
"Voting in the moment is a reality. People say, 'Oh, it's right there, I can go.'"
Transportation could be issue
The UPEI Student Union is planning to provide transportation to polling stations for students, MacLean said, as some students may face challenges in getting out to the polls.
"A lot of students don't have reliable transportation," she said.
In a statement to CBC News, Elections Canada said that voting would still take place at long-term care facilities, because it's mandatory.
"Voting in long-term care facilities is a requirement under the Election Act, voting on campus is not," the statement said.
"Voting on campus was a supplementary program started in the 2015 election as a pilot project, and renewed and expanded in the 2019 election because it was a success."
Elections Canada still plans to facilitate voting for students, the statement said.
"Returning officers are still making every effort to open polls as close to campuses as possible, and Elections Canada has also vastly expanded its capacity to deal with mail-in votes."