In 2012 Alberta saw one of our most exciting elections in a generation, one where several local races were decided by only a few hundred votes and where the provincial result itself was a surprise to many political pundits. We also saw a dramatic increase in voter turnout – thousands of more Albertans came out to exercise their right to vote and our turnout went from a record low in 2008 of 40% to 58% in 2012.
The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) focused on voter turnout among our students in the recent election, running our largest campaign ever focused on getting students to pledge to vote and then reminding them to get out and vote on April 23. We signed up over 10,000 university students and then called, emailed, and texted every single student who signed up to remind them of the election and their pledge to get out and be heard.
We had an impact, with increases in voter turnouts in university constituencies in the province but we also continued to see problems with students obtaining a ballot. Alberta’s laws regarding who can vote in a provincial election are similar to other provinces and at first glance are fairly straight forward.
In short, you must be over 18 years old, live in Alberta for six months, and be a Canadian citizen. On April 23, 2012 many of Alberta’s over 260,000 post-secondary students would have met those three simple criteria but would have struggled to get a vote because of the definition of ordinary residency specifically as it applies to post- secondary students in the Elections Act.
In 2009 CAUS noted that Alberta’s Elections Act and general practices were the most onerous in Canada in allowing post-secondary students to vote including, most importantly, allowing students to have the choice of voting where they live while going to school or where their family lives. In the last election this problem affected many and needs to be fixed before the next election in 2016. Students should be allowed to choose between their home during studies and their family home to be their ordinary residence.
Young Albertan voters are at a particular disadvantage and one bad experience at the polls is enough to prevent that individual from voting for a lifetime. As a result, getting young Albertans to vote in their first election is a crucial opportunity to establishing a lifetime pattern civic engagement – something which the Elections Act rules around ordinary residency and post-secondary students stands in the way of.
It’s time for Alberta to modernize its election laws, and make it easier for post-secondary students to vote.
CAUS is calling on Alberta to:
- Allow students to choose between their home during studies and their family home to be their ordinary residence;
- Establish advance voting stations for multiple constituencies on post-secondary campuses;
- Permit advance voting for all electoral divisions at any returning office as well as at any advance voting station;
- Select returning officers earlier in the electoral process; and
- Have Elections Alberta and individual returning officers work with students’ unions to increase communications with students and encourage voter turnout among students.