Vote, and then vote again

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

  • According to statistics released by the City of Guelph, only 7 per cent of eligible students voted in
the 2006 munici

    According to statistics released by the City of Guelph, only 7 per cent of eligible students voted in the 2006 munici

Written by Oriana Tahireh Marsh

With midterms looming, students at the University of Guelph are more likely to be studying course notes than the platforms of municipal election candidates.

According to statistics released by the City of Guelph, only 7 per cent of eligible students voted in the 2006 municipal election. Only 5 per cent voted in the elections before that. On a campus of over 18,500 undergraduates, that's a lot of unused voting power.

But student leaders and university officials are nevertheless urging first-time voters to learn about the issues and cast ballots in the coming election, which takes place October 25th.

“Many students are new here and don’t necessarily feel attached to Guelph yet, but this is going to be their home for four years,” notes Janet Doner, Coordinator of Civic Engagement at U of G.

Many of the responsibilities held by city councils, like housing by-laws, water conservation, waste disposal and public transit affect students just as much, if not more, than provincial or federal politics, Doner notes.

Students living away from home are even granted double voting power - they're eligible to vote in the municipality where they're attending school and the municipality where their "permanent home" is located., according to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Still, many student may feel like there's no time to get to know the candidates or their platforms. To help with the leaning curve, Student Life has created a website that includes a step-by-step guide on registering to vote, information about candidates, council voting records and links to news articles about the election.

In partnership with the Guelph Civic League, the University will also be hosting a debate featuring the candidates for mayor and Ward 5 on Thursday, October 14th at 5:30 p.m. in the Eccles Center (South Residence.)

Anastasia Zavarella, the Central Student Association's Local Affairs Commissioner, says the trickiest part about voter outreach is overcoming barriers that have sprung up to prevent students from voting.

"I don't think apathy is a problem," says Zavarella, working at CSA-sponsored booth in the University Center. "I think if the process was accessible and information on the candidates was accessible, [low turnout] wouldn't be an issue."

Unlike the last municipal election, the city is not planning to place a polling station or voter registration booth on campus - a major incovenience that Zavarella fears could push voter turnout to new lows.

And while any Guelph resident can find out the location of the polling station in their area by typing their name and address into the Guelph Municipal Election website, you have to be on the voters list to access the information.

The list which was last amended in the summer while most students were out of town, Zaverella notes.

Students can fill out an application to amend the voters list, provided they have the appropriate documents proving their identity and place of residence.

The CSA has tried bringing those forms to students. However, Zavarella complains city staff are being stingy giving her hard copies of voter applications, limiting her to 10 copies at a time.

"It's a real chopping and changing process," she says.

In the past week, she says she's helped 5 students get their paperword together and register to vote.

"That's five people who might not otherwise have voted... so I'm happy to do it," she says, adding that the municipal election is "too important" for students to sit on the sidelines.

Doner, while agreeing that the voting system “is not perfect," agrees.

"There are many ways to participate in democracy and voting is the beginning,” she insists.

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