KELOWNA - There is nothing underhanded about the lack of advance polls on the Okanagan College and UBCO campuses during a recent pilot project aimed at post-secondary schools, at least according to an Elections Canada spokesperson.
Dorothy Sitek, a spokeperson for Elections Canada, says a pilot project from Oct. 5 to 8 put advance polls on 39 post-secondary campuses across Canada, including five at the three biggest universities in B.C. — University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria — and two more at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Okanagan College, along with every other college in the province, was not included, nor was UBC Okanagan, the Interior location for the province’s largest university.
UBC Okanagan has at least 8,000 students at its Kelowna campus while Okanagan College hosts approximately 4,000 at its campus on KLO Road.
Chelsea Grisch, internal director for the Okanagan College Students Union, says she was surprised when there was no advance poll set up on campus last weekend, given the youth demographic of the college.
“I know there was one for the provincial election. I thought there would be one, we had no reason to assume there wouldn’t be,” she says. “It couldn’t be that hard to facilitate.”
Grisch admits the student union was taken by surprise and did not check in advance if a poll was planned, focused as they were on the all candidates meet-and-greet scheduled for Oct. 14.
She says the student union will likely look further into the matter by contacting other student governments that are members of the Canadian Federation of Students to determine if further action is required.
Grisch says given the Conservative’s past record, it’s not hard to imagine it as a possible voter supression tactic.
“They’ve been employed at other levels. It’s not difficult to believe it could happen here.”
However the Elections Canada spokesperson says the two schools — and many others across Canada — were left out of the pilot project for the Oct. 19 federal election because they didn’t fit predetermined criteria.
“The main criterion was size followed by regional representation and the availability of rental space during the times we needed,” Sitek says. “We wanted to validate some assumptions about operational requirements and levels of interest before expanding further."
She could not say if either Okanagan College or UBC Okanagan had been assessed for inclusion, but says the criterion had been developed in consultation with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Sitek points to Election Canada’s efforts to expand voting options for this election, including an extra day of advance polls, which allowed for a 71 per cent increase in advance voting, despite complaints of line ups and long waits. She says there were also additional 185 polling stations added across Canada for this election compared to 2011, including 58 in B.C.
Sitek says the student union or any other voter is welcome to engage in their official complaint process if they have concerns about the way the election is being conducted.
All complaints will be investigated and the results made public in a report from the chief electoral officer after the Oct. 19 election.
The UBCO student union did not respond to a request for an interview.
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