By: James Rimmer
On Aug. 30 I attempted to vote at the advanced poll for the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection located in the University of Waterloo SLC. I was turned away because as a co-op student I had no current documentation indicating I held an address in the riding that I have lived in since 2008.
My question is this: how could I have voted? How can I ensure this does not happen again? Would it be possible to broaden the documents accepted to allow students like myself to vote?
I am a University of Waterloo co-op student. I move every four months between school and work terms. As a result, I have all my mail — bills, T-4s, tuition statements, postcards, and letters — sent to my parents’ address in Ottawa as it would be far too much effort to constantly update my address. Due to the short nature of my residency I, and many other UW co-op students, tend to sublet and do not sign leases.
What am I to do? How could I have voted? At the polling station they indicated that documents indicating residency was now required even for the oath. Is this true?
I honestly do live in Waterloo. I wanted to honestly vote and engage in our democracy. Yet because of the educational path I have chosen, because I am a co-op student, I was denied the vote. I am not alone in this. Many co-op students do not vote because they simply can’t meet your evidence requirements.
We students need to vote in our university town. Practically, it is much more difficult for us to vote in our parents’ ridings. We must either travel extensive distances or mail in our votes if we are away at school when an election is called. To be truly participatory a democracy must be accessible — that is why returning officers are sent to homeless shelters and seniors homes. Yet I must take an eight hour bus ride or mail my vote across the province?
More importantly, we must vote in our schools’ ridings because for us to vote in our parents’ ridings would be a fundamental misrepresentation of our democracy. A riding is meant to be the representation of a community; an MPP is a leader who speaks for the people who make up a community.
When co-op students vote in communities where they no longer live it alters those communities and disengages students with the community they are actually apart of, their university town.
Denying students’ residency only sends the message that we are unwelcome and that we do not belong; that we have no voice in decisions that greatly impact our lives such as public transportation and zoning.
Would it be possible to issue a new document, or accept other documentation like student cards to allow my friends and I to vote? Could we be ruled homeless and be allowed to register with a shelter? I understand preventing voter fraud is important and necessary, but surely something can be done to allow us, active, engaged youth who wish to be part of the communities around us, to vote.
Let us in. Let us vote.
Originally posted in Imprint, UW’s Student Newspaper, 14 September 2012