I will be serving as an officer in the coming municipal election. Although voter suppression is not unheard of in Canada, my country’s electoral systems are generally set up to make it easy to get on the list of electors and to vote. People who have a record of fraud and those in prison during the election are about the only citizens who cannot vote in Canada. Non-citizen residents are profoundly affected by governments, but Canada is one of the many countries that does not extend suffrage to non-citizens even if they are permanent residents and property owners.
This isn’t my first election. I enjoy helping people vote, especially members of low-turnout demographics. A 2014 study provides evidence that immigration status and racialization affect voter turnout. First Nation voters, who were long denied voting rights, are showing up at the polls in increasing numbers. We know from other studies that age and housing security also affect people’s propensity to vote. I love to see people of colour, younger voters, and street people at the polls, regardless of how they mark their ballots.
I have strong feelings, backed by evidence and thoughtful review of policies and platforms, about who would work most effectively in elected roles, but I don’t promote specific candidates. That’s the hardest part about being an election official: maintaining a public face of neutrality when I care deeply about the issues and the candidates. I talk about voting, the importance of making an informed choice, and ways to influence government between elections when the opportunity arises.
At the federal and provincial levels, getting on the voters list and keeping your information up to date can be as simple as checking two boxes on your annual tax return. At the municipal level in Ontario, the corporation that handles property assessment tracks property owners and tenants to keep the list of electors up to date. It’s less inclusive than Canada Revenue’s arrangements with Elections Canada. I don’t know why municipal rolls can’t be seeded from the same list: it may be related to regulations at the city and county level about who is eligible to vote. Supporting systems at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal) allow people to check and update their voter registration online. Public facilities with computers and generally available internet access (yay, libraries!) make checking the list of electors possible for members of the communities they serve.
When advance polls and election day come around, election workers provide access to secure voting with a paper trail in physically accessible locations. Some of us travel to locations where there are people who cannot visit a polling station, helping them vote from their residence or bed.
Voter identification is checked at all polls, as is the list of electors. You can be added to the voters list on election day, or have your registration amended, as long as you’re eligible to vote and show up at the right poll with sufficient identification to prove you’re a member of the community. Voter identification in municipal elections doesn’t necessarily include a photograph, proof of citizenship, or a signature. It’s more important to give the transgender person, the new citizen, the student, the bedridden a voice on election day than to prevent legitimate votes from being cast and counted due to fear of what’s more a series of ill-founded anecdotes than actual election fraud.
Voting is baby steps in the marathon of contributing to our society. If you’re eligible to vote in an election near you soon, I encourage you to do so. If you remain in touch with your government representatives between elections as well, thank you a thousand times: that is what democracy looks like.