© Submitted photo
A voter places a ballot in a ballot box.
CORNER BROOK — Many youth, especially students, feel they were unjustly scrutinized and/or turned away from voting in the municipal election in Corner Brook Tuesday.
Nick Mercer, vice-president external of the Grenfell Campus Student Union, said students have been sharing stories of how they feel they were treated unfairly and prejudiciously at polling stations. Some have submitted formal complaints through the union.
“We are just starting to get an idea of the extent of this ourselves,” Mercer said. “But, we do have reason for concern.”
He said students were asked where they planned to live once they graduate, along with questions of how long they have been in the city and if they are truly a resident.
“In some cases, people working at polling stations blatantly ignored students who were trying to tell them they were residents,” he said.
Mercer said there were incidents handled poorly, but also accusations of cases dealt with incorrectly.
“We have students, or citizens of Corner Brook who believe they are residents, who were willing to take the oath, but were turned away from the polls,” he said.
There were also reports that some students were discriminated against because of their age and gender, according to the union representative.
“People were being called things like ‘kids’, he said. “We received a formal complaint where somebody asked a group why such a young group of girls was interested in politics.”
The student union contacted the chief returning officer (CRO) — Marina Redmond — and requested a meeting. Mercer said they were told she is unavailable to meet with them right now, but were encouraged to bring their complaints forward.
“We really want to meet with the CRO, not just to bring these complaints forward, but the student union wants to build a partnership with the city to move beyond these barriers,” he said. “We want to encourage youth engagement. We want to work with the city to get people to vote and participate.”
Mercer said the student union put a lot of work into getting students excited about voting in the municipal election. The union helped organize a candidates forum, ran a youth engagement campaign, and provided transportation to the polling stations.
“Things were going great,” he said. “I have never seen students so excited to vote. When we found out students were having such difficulty at the polls, it was shocking.”
Mercer said any student who experienced issues or has concerns to contact the union.
Meanwhile, Glen Keeling, a student at Grenfell who was a candidate in the election, was also dismayed by reports of such treatment.
“I can’t imagine the feeling that somebody must have who takes the time to become interested in local politics, and goes out of the way to vote, only to be discouraged from voting or turned away at the polls,” he said.
Keeling, who finished 20th out of the 21 candidates for council with 641 votes, believes the lost votes did not influence the outcome of the election. However, he said it is about much more than the outcome.
He is also hoping to work with the city and department of Municipal Affairs to pinpoint the cause and ensure it is rectified for future elections.
Redmond was not available for an interview Wednesday, but the city issued a press release stating they are aware of the concerns. The city has asked for a written report, so they can investigate.
“We encourage any individual who feels they were wrongly denied the opportunity to vote to put their concerns in writing so that they can be addressed,” the email stated.
Residency voting regulations:
— To be eligible to vote you must be a Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age on election day, and ‘ordinarily resident’ in Corner Brook for at least 30 days immediately prior to election day.
Definition of ordinarily resident
— A person can have only one place of residency. To be considered ‘ordinarily resident’ you must live and sleep in Corner Brook and when absent, intend to return. Residency is not lost by a person who leaves their residence for temporary purposes only (i.e. for work or school).
— The place where your family resides is considered to be your residence unless you live at another place with the intention of remaining there. In that case, you are considered to be a resident of the place where you intend to live.
— It is an offence under the Municipal Elections Act to falsely claim residency for the purpose of voting in a municipal election.
Source: City of Corner Brook