Dartmouth North has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the HRM, but a campaign launched Friday aims to change that in time for the municipal election, kicking off with a pop-up practice voting station and culminating in a 'voting party' and parade to the real polling station on Oct. 15. 

The Dartmouth North Community Food Centre launched its Speak Up. Show Up. campaign to boost turnout in the election that has the greatest potential to directly affect the lives of Dartmouth North residents.

"A city councillor is the person that can make the most change for the community of Dartmouth North from the ground up," Tammy Shields, community action co-ordinator at the centre told CBC's Information Morning on Friday.

'A lot of challenges'

The HRM's municipal election will be held Oct. 15. Every week between now and the election, the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre will hold events including button and placard making parties and an event where residents can pose questions to the candidates.

In the most recent election — a byelection for the councillor of District 6, the electoral district of which Dartmouth North is a part — just 161 of 6002 eligible voters cast a ballot. 

"Residents of Dartmouth North face a lot of challenges, and I think people do feel that their vote might not matter," said Shields.

Pop-up voting practice

Shields said that barriers to voting for residents include not having proper ID, difficulties getting registered and not having access to a computer for online voting. 

The inaugural event for the campaign is a pop-up voting station, where residents will go through all the steps they'd need to take to vote for a candidate election.

Dartmouth north campaign

The idea behind the pop-up event is to give people who haven’t voted before the experience of what it feels like to vote, said community action co-ordinator Tammy Shields. (Tammy Shields)

The winning candidate in this case? Residents' favourite local summer fruit, which will be featured in the centre's community lunch next week.  

"The idea behind it is to give people who haven't voted for the experience of what it feels like to vote," Shields said.

She said today's event also gives the organizers of the campaign a chance to address barriers like voter registration or ID requirements. 

Psychological barriers

Amanda Nickerson, a Dartmouth North resident and community peer advocate with the centre, said that the barriers are also psychological. 

"In Dartmouth North, there's a lot of people living in poverty, and when they live in poverty they're kind of told what to do," she said, adding that when people are told they have a right to vote and choose their representative, they sometimes don't feel that that's the case. 

The centre's community support advocates — who initiated the campaign — help residents of Dartmouth North navigate the challenges they face. When it comes to voting, Nickerson knows these challenges first-hand. 

Dartmouth north campaign

Staff at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre prepare to welcome voters in the kick-off event for their voter engagement campaign Speak Up. Show Up. (Tammy Shields)

'I wish there was a parade'

Her first time voting was in the most recent federal election. When it came time to cast her ballot, she said that, "I went down there all by myself, I wasn't on the [voter] list, I had to wait around for a little bit and it was kind of awkward. 

"And [after voting] I felt so great I was like, 'I wish there was a parade'."

And so there will be.

For residents of Dartmouth North, this Oct. 15, to honour the fact that voters and votes are important, a parade will take residents from the food centre to the polling station a few blocks away. 

"We hold one third of the [district], so we can sway who really does mould our community," Nickerson said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning