Aaron Tan's Blog

15 Jun 2018

On the Ontario Election

Whew, now that midterms are over, there are a few things I want to talk about in the Ontario general election. This isn’t an opinion about who got elected or who I voted for, or any strongly held political beliefs. It’s just a small post about why some people I know didn’t vote.

Part One: Finding Out Where To Vote

I’m speaking from the perspective of a university student who’s currently away on a study term, living away from home. This meant that I didn’t get a voter information card in the mail. Not getting this vital piece of information is the first step in a bit of misinformation that disincentivizes youth from voting. I’ll be the first to admit that this is my fault, because I’m living in a temporary residence, and officially my address is still somewhere in Ottawa. And sure, the government does mitigate this by trying to make voting information easily accessible on the Internet. However, it’s also my and many of my friends’ first time voting, and many of us didn’t know where to find this information; the government also has our emails from tax returns, so I find it strange that they cannot use that method of communication to inform us.

About finding this information: it’s confusing. According to Elections Ontario’s website, students living away from home have the option to “vote in the electoral district where you permanently reside OR in the electoral district in which you are temporarily living to attend school.”1

As a constituent in the Kanata-Carleton riding, where the sitting MPP was likely to be voted out, I wanted to vote in my home riding as I felt it would be more interesting, as opposed to Waterloo, which has been solidly NDP for years. From the wording in the quote above, I thought that I be able to vote “in the electoral district in which you are temporarily living to attend school”, i.e. Waterloo, and cast a vote for my Kanata-Carleton candidate by special ballot or in an advanced poll. Contributing to this misconception is that Ontario’s online voting information service2 searches front and center by postal code - for which I entered the one where I was living for school - and it showed locations where I could vote in Waterloo. I wasn’t alone in believing this: I asked some of my friends who wanted to vote for a candidate in Kanata-Carleton, and they were under the same impression: that you could vote physically for a candidate while in another district.

I even emailed Elections Ontario hoping to clear this up, but they just copy-pasted the text from their website and sent it to me. That didn’t really clear anything up, and they also took a business day to reply.

It turns out that you need to either a) show up in Kanata-Carleton, or b) vote by special mail-in ballot. Since I’m not going to go on a fourteen-hour round-trip to vote in my district, voting by mail it was.

Let’s take a step back and look at the other option. I could vote in Waterloo, which is exactly what a few of my other friends did. Even here, there were setbacks and things that discouraged people from voting:

  1. The University had a voting booth on-campus that was promoted by FEDS (Federation of Students) and shared on their Facebook page… except that it’s only open to people who live in residence. While this was made clear in some of their Facebook posts, there were quite a few posters on-campus and a Facebook event that buried that information in a wall of text. In addition, several TAs were misinformed and told classes to go and vote at that location without mentioning the residence requirement.
  2. At least one person I know was turned away from the poll even though the Voter Information Service told them to go to that one.

To summarize: misinformation everywhere, misconceptions everywhere.

Part Two: Voting

Now, this part is a bit more about what I personally went through to vote.

  • Submitted special ballot application a week before the deadline, on May 31st, the Thursday before the election. Elections Ontario states that I am no longer eligible to vote in another way as soon as I have a special ballot, but I didn’t receive any confirmation or anything to indicate that it was processed or that they had looked at it, and was thus in limbo for a few days.
  • The special ballot was shipped by courier service to the apartment where I live. Elections Ontario shipped it via Fedex on the Friday before the election. It arrived Monday and nobody answered the door, and Fedex left a door tag saying that they would be back by Tuesday 5:00 PM.
  • Tuesday 5:00 PM rolls around and they did not deliver.
  • I call them Wednesday morning asking about my package, and they inform me that the door tag is incorrect; in fact, you need to call them to arrange a second delivery. If I want to get my ballot delivered to Elections Ontario by the deadline next day, I need to go down to their office in Cambridge, fill out the special ballot, and send it out before 7:00 PM.

Classes end at 4:20 and we’ve just started triple integrals in Calc II; can’t miss that. Right after class ends I take the 200 down to Cambridge, it takes about an hour to get to the Sportsworld Centre. I then take a the 72 bus, which is sketchy AF–it’s a van, with a laminated sheet of letter paper stuck on the window with “72 Cherry Blossom” printed on it. The bus deposits me in a semi-rural business park where I walk approximately 400m on a road full of trucks with a high speed limit and no sidewalk before I get to the Fedex Ship and Print center at 6:00 PM.

I fill out the ballot and pay $36 to get it shipped on time for the elections deadline.

I have no Wi-Fi nor data so getting back to Sportsworld was another 1.6km walk on the wrong side of the road with no sidewalk, crossing a highway exit with no traffic lights, where I almost get run over. And then I take another hour-and-a-half long bus ride back home.

The next week is midterms so I’m sorta not feeling great using up $36 and three hours of my time to vote in an election where I’m not even sure my vote will amount to anything at all.

So why don’t people vote?

Observationally, people I know who did not vote or could not vote could be generally categorized one of two ways:

  • Apathy (not caring enough to vote):
    • Not feeling like the vote counts (and by extension, being unaware of the per-vote subsidy that exists in Ontario)
    • Not believing that first-past-the-post should be a valid way to represent people
    • Not caring enough about the election to inform themselves (and using the excuse of “I didn’t feel informed enough”)
  • Difficulty Voting (wanting to vote but not being able to):
    • Not knowing where or how to vote (I fell into this)
    • Wanting to vote, but not being able to vote in time (mail being slow or inefficient)
    • Difficulty navigating and/or understanding the information presented by Elections Ontario

And after that experience with voting being my first, I’m not surprised that the turnout was only 58%.

  1. Elections Ontario Website, archived 19 March 2018. 

  2. Elections Ontario Website, archived 19 March 2018. 

aaron at 23:14