British Columbia

UBC student bridges language gap to boost South Asian votes in electoral reform referendum

As British Columbia slides towards the last week of the electoral reform referendum, one university student is doing her part to try to boost voter turnout within the South Asian community.

Jennifer Deol says having someone on the ground to answers questions is crucial

Jennifer Deol (left) has been circulating information about the upcoming referendum in Punjabi and English at community centres and temples in the Okanagan, and answering questions, to boost voter education and turnout. (Submitted by Jennifer Deol )

As British Columbia moves into the last week before the electoral reform referendum deadline, one university student is doing her part to try to boost voter turnout in the South Asian community.

Elections BC has translated referendum materials like voter guides and sample ballots into 14 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Tagalog and Punjabi, which are available online.

But that doesn't necessarily mean more people who speak these languages will take the time to vote — or know how to do so, says Jennifer Deol.

"We always assume that getting information online is an easy way, but it isn't always for everybody — especially for folks [for whom] English may not be a first language, or they're new to the country," said Deol, a UBC graduate student who's currently studying in Kelowna.

Deol started going to community centres and Sikh temples in the area to circulate a one-page explainer about the referendum in English and Punjabi that she created as well as translated copies of the Election BC material. 

The deadline for Elections BC to receive ballots is Friday, Nov. 30. (Elections BC)

Confusion and misunderstanding

Deol is not associated with any kind of political organization and isn't studying politics.

"I was just someone who did a lot of research on this, found some of the options confusing myself and that led me to want to have more conversations with other people," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.  

In having those conversations with people in the community, Deol said she realized there was a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about the referendum.

She was getting questions on everything from what the referendum is asking and the differences between the options to filling out the ballot and meeting the deadline.

"It might seem intuitive for someone from a privileged position like myself who can read English and understand it and who's been following [the referendum] actively," she said.

"Having that person on the the ground that they can connect to in the language of their choosing, whether it be Punjabi or English, has just been really nice."

Deadline to vote

The deadline for Elections BC to receive the ballots is Friday, Nov. 30. So far, about 25 per cent have been received.

Deol emphasized that her focus is on the importance of participating in the referendum, not on any specific electoral option.

"There are pros and cons to both keeping the current system and trying a new system," she said.

"What I really wanted was to encourage people to do was just do that education around [these options] mean."

With files from The Early Edition