Politics

Two students may be unable to vote after Elections Ontario mix-up

After weeks of fighting to cast their ballots, two students say they may be unable to vote in Ontario's provincial election because of misinformation sent out by the province's elections agency.

Several phone calls and one 'unforgivably rude' conversation later, these voters are in limbo

Amaru Anderson and Alexandre Richer-Brulé say they are unable to vote in the provincial election because of miscommunication by Elections Ontario (Amaru Anderson/Facebook)

After weeks of fighting to cast their ballots, two students say they may be unable to vote in Ontario's provincial election because of misinformation sent out by the province's elections agency.

In May — with weeks to go before election day — Alexandre Richer-Brulé and Amaru Anderson looked up the special rules that apply to voting while away from home. The couple lives and studies in London, Ont., but had moved to Ottawa for summer work.

"Having experience with the on-campus special ballots project during the last federal election, I knew that voting as a student away from home was a complicated process and required extra work," Richer-Brulé said. 

They had two options, according to the Elections Ontario website: mail in a ballot or vote at a special returning office. They elected to go with option number two.

But when they arrived at the University of Ottawa special ballot office last Wednesday, they were told they couldn't vote in any returning office outside of London — information not made clear on the web page they consulted, which has since been rewritten.

They were directed to the returning office in the Vanier neighbourhood of Ottawa, where a staffer told them to call the special ballot program hotline at Elections Ontario's head office in Toronto.

When Anderson spoke to head office on the phone, she said the employee didn't know the rules governing their situation and told the couple to vote at the Vanier office.

As she tried to explain that they had just been blocked from voting there, Anderson said the elections staffer interrupted her by saying, "Is it my turn to talk now?"

Anderson said that "unforgivably rude" encounter prompted them to call their local office in London. They were asked to provide copies of their identification in exchange for special ballot voting kits that would be sent by express mail to arrive by June 2.

The packages haven't arrived yet and the Elections Ontario offices have said they are unable to offer further help.

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Richer-Brulé and Anderson are now waiting to see if their special ballots arrive in time for the 6 p.m. Thursday deadline to cast their votes — after being told by elections officers it's the only way remaining for them to vote.

Both of them have voted in past provincial and federal elections without problems, and both said they were surprised at how unprepared Elections Ontario was to deal with students in their situation.

"It blows my mind. You've had four years to prepare for this," Anderson said.

Elections Ontario says situation is uncommon

It's not the first time students have been blocked from the polls because of geographic complications. 

In 2014, some Montreal university students from out of province had issues voting in the Quebec election because they hadn't lived in the province for the six months required to cast a ballot.

Elections Ontario said it couldn't speak to the specifics of Anderson and Richer-Brulé's case, but added such cases are not normally a problem.

"Students living away from home can choose to vote in the electoral district where they permanently reside or in the electoral district in which they are temporarily living to attend school. Because of this flexibility, the example you provided is not a common problem for students," Cara Des Granges, a spokesperson, said in an email.

She recommended the two contact the special ballot team, as there might be a possibility for them to vote in person in Ottawa. They explained they've already tried that option.

Anderson and Richer-Brulé aren't the only ones anxious to vote.

About 768,895 of 10.2 million eligible voters cast ballots at advance polls between May 26 and June 1, according to preliminary figures released by Elections Ontario. That's an 18.8 per cent increase over 2014, when an estimated 647,261 voters turned up at advance polls.

With statistics like that, the couple said they wonder how many other students struggled to vote.

"How do they expect young voters to vote when most of us are in positions like that?" Anderson questioned. 

"It makes me feel like our democratic process is not democratic." 

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