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(Un)Fair Elections Act creates extra barriers to voting

Silent protesters march through Public Gardens

by Moira Donovan

Students and community organizers marched through the Public Gardens to oppose the so-called Fair Elections Act. Photo Moira Donovan
Students and community organizers marched through the Public Gardens to oppose the so-called Fair Elections Act. Photo Moira Donovan
The act creates hurdles that make it more difficult to vote for students and people living in poverty. Photo Moira Donovan
The act creates hurdles that make it more difficult to vote for students and people living in poverty. Photo Moira Donovan

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – One important way of speaking out in a democracy is voting. But thanks to changes in federal legislation, that voice is at risk of being silenced, say student and community organizations.

This Thursday, protesters marched silently through the Public Gardens in downtown Halifax to draw attention to the ways in which the Fair Elections Act has made it more difficult for voters to cast their ballot.

The controversial legislation has introduced changes such as banning Elections Canada from engaging in efforts to increase voter turnout. The Act has also prohibited the use of voter information cards as proof of residency and has eliminated the vouching system.

In the old format, a voter with the necessary identification could vouch for the identity of another voter at the polling station. That has been replaced with a less-straightforward oath system.

More onerous identification requirements will have a disproportionate impact on students, many of whom are both living away from home and voting for the first time, said Canadian Federation of Students Nova Scotia Chairperson Michaela Sam.

“[The Act] is part of a system that’s been set up to disenfranchise students and youth from being able to vote,” she said. ‘The changes posed do mean that there is a real fear that many students will show up on October 19 and not have the appropriate ID to be able to vote in the upcoming election.”

Counter to the prevailing perception that students are apathetic, she said young people are working together on campus to ensure that their peers are aware not only of the need to vote, but also how to do so.

Participants in the march referred to the legislation as the (Un)fair Elections Act, a reflection of the ways in which the act has changed more than the process of voting.

On a more fundamental level, it undermines the viability of Canada’s democracy, said Tori Ball, an organizer with the Council of Canadians, one of the organizations behind the event.

“We wanted to do this [march] today to draw attention to the general erosion of democracy we’ve had under Stephen Harper’s leadership. We wanted to use this as one recent example of how he’s been taking the country in a direction we don’t want to go, by making it harder for populations who aren’t likely to vote Conservative to vote in general.”

In addition to students, it’s feared that the act will make it more difficult for low income and indigenous people to vote, which is why there will be polling centres set up at Friendship centres and as well as university campuses before election day, she noted.

Although it’s important not to overstate the role of voting – after all, there are many ways to participate in a democracy, including public protests – voting is a way for Canadians to express their own vision for their communities, said Ball, and that’s a form of self-expression that should never be silenced.

“Democracy doesn’t start and end at the polling station, but it’s one way people can engage in the system, so we are trying to get information to people so they aren’t disenfranchised when these rules affect them on election day.”

 

 

 


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