East Vancouver residents are continuing to voice their concerns about the distribution of advance polls for the municipal election in November.
At a meeting on Powell Street today (October 9), residents from areas including Grandview-Woodland and the Downtown Eastside spoke about the potential challenges of the advance poll locations for marginalized people.
Downtown Eastside resident Fraser Stuart said the neighbourhood has a high concentration of seniors and people with disabilities. He also noted that many people can’t afford to take the bus.
“After a week and a half, your welfare or your pension money is gone,” he said in an interview.
“So to pony up another $2.75 to go and vote—that’s a luxury. That’s your food for the day, basically.”
Rider Cooey with the group Downtown Eastside Votes, which organized the meeting, said according to the city’s map of advance voting stations, there are five polls west of Main Street, and just two on the east side of Main. (One advance poll is located on Main Street and 52nd Avenue.)
“It’s a distribution that strikes anybody I think who looks at it for any length of time as unbalanced,” said Cooey.
“What’s needed is some sort of effort to rebalance the distribution.”
Garth Mullins, a Grandview-Woodland resident and member of the Our Community, Our Plan group, said the issue is not the total number of advance polls, but the ratio.
“What we’re seeing when we connect the dots here is a democracy desert,” he said.
Several speakers at the event also raised the issue of encouraging young people to vote.
“We need to be increasing opportunities for young people to vote, not taking them away,” said Green school board candidate Mischa Oak, a Mount Pleasant resident.
Gail Harmer also noted that advance polls are “incredibly important” to seniors.
Jak King, another member of Our Community, Our Plan, contended that the advance poll distribution is part of “a much larger problem” in that Vancouver doesn't have an independent electoral commission.
“The chief electoral officer is the city clerk, who reports directly to Penny Ballem, the city manager, who reports to the elected mayor,” said King. “It is not an independent situation.”
In a letter sent to chief election officer Janice MacKenzie on October 7, Vision Vancouver deputy campaign director Stepan Vdovine requested a review of advance polling locations for the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, and Grandview-Woodland.
“I’m writing to voice Vision Vancouver’s concern about the placement of certain advance polling locations. In particular, we’re concerned about the absence of any advance polling stations in the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona and Grandview Woodlands neighbourhoods,” Vdovine’s letter reads.
“Vision Vancouver believes all residents should have equal access to a polling station in their neighbourhood. In addition, our analysis of past voter turnout shows these areas have a higher likelihood of voting than other parts of Vancouver.”
In an interview earlier this week, MacKenzie said the city tried to distribute the advance voting locations based on accessibility, proximity to public transit, and sufficient space that would be available for eight, 14-hour days.
"It does take quite a bit of space, and we tried to limit the impact to the extent possible on facility operations, and then apart from that there are certain technical requirements required for the building," she told the Straight by phone.
"But the big thing is that we don’t want to grind programming to a halt at any location that we select."
A news release issued by the city today states that the hours of advance voting available this year represent a 280-percent increase from 2011.
Advance voting will be available at city hall, in addition to the West End, Roundhouse, Thunderbird, Sunset, Killarney, KItsilano, and Kerrisdale community centres. The polls will be open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from November 4 to 12, except for Remembrance Day on November 11.
On election day on November 15, there will be 120 voting stations across the city. Voters will be able to cast their ballot at any of the polls.