The University of Victoria and the UVic Students’ Society are joining forces in an effort to increase voter turnout at this fall’s municipal elections.
They are proposing the implementation of an advance polling station on campus which would allow students who live in Victoria, Saanich or Oak Bay to vote in the same place.
“We’re trying to get students engaged with the communities around them,” said Dylan Sherlock, director of finance and operations with the UVSS. “Right now the university and the communities are at a crossroads. UVic is becoming a world-class university, and one of the key elements of world-class universities is that they interact more with those surrounding communities.”
In addition to providing the physical space for the station, the university and Students’ Society would promote it and ensure voters know the requirements for proving their residency. The society would also provide opportunities for candidates to speak directly to students and other members of the UVic community.
Nearly 30,000 people study and work on the campus.
The proposal has support from all three municipalities, but a very tight timeline may mean it can’t be implemented in time for the Nov. 19 elections. Since the polling station would be located outside the boundaries of both Victoria and Oak Bay, those municipalities would have to pass bylaw changes allowing it to be set up.
The Local Government Act stipulates that any such changes must be made no later than eight weeks prior to the opening of nominations, which means the bylaws would have to be put into effect within the next three to four weeks.
The proposal was formally put before Oak Bay council at its Monday (July 18) meeting. While council members expressed support for the idea, they were also concerned that they did not have enough time to make the necessary changes.
“We need two meetings to pass a bylaw (amendment),” said Mayor Christopher Causton. “Aug. 8 is our next meeting, so I’m not sure how we would be able to do this in time.”
The only possible way to get the bylaw changed in time would be if council were to hold extra meetings prior to Aug. 8. However, with various councillors expected to be away at different times, achieving a quorum could be difficult.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Oak Bay Coun. Tara Ney is eager to work something out.
“I’m actually excited about this proposal,” she said. “We need to do this now, not later.”
Victoria council discussed the issue at its meeting yesterday (after the News’ deadline). Mayor Dean Fortin, who put forth the idea last month, is hopeful something can be done to make the plan a reality.
“I think it’s still possible,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that administratively difficult to make it happen.”
In Saanich, a new bylaw is not required to implement the polling station. Its proposed location is within the district boundaries, and therefore can be set by Carrie MacPhee, the district chief electoral officer. But MacPhee, who only received the proposal this week, wants to know what Oak Bay and Victoria are planning before making any decisions.
“We’ll look at (the proposal) and we’ll have to talk to our colleagues in other municipalities and find out what their plans are,” MacPhee said.
Even if the deadline is not met, Sherlock was clear this will not be a one-time proposition.
“If we fail to get this kind of polling station this year, we’ll be trying to get it for 2014,” he said.
UVic and the UVSS have discussed a similar plan with Elections B.C. and Elections Canada for future provincial and federal votes.
– with files from Kyle Slavin, Roszan Holmen