City of Vancouver goes on road to reach voters in shelters, drop-in centres

Mobile voting service focused downtown, Hastings corridor and Strathcona

The City of Vancouver is going on the road this week to set up mobile voting stations in homeless shelters and drop-in centres in the Downtown Eastside and throughout downtown in an effort to get more people to cast a ballot in this month’s civic election.

The move is in response to complaints registered in the 2014 election when residents of the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona had only two facilities open on voting day to cast a ballot — the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings, and Britannia Community Centre near Commercial Drive.

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“We’re bringing voting to the residents to make it easier for them,” said Rosemary Hagiwara, the city’s chief election officer, noting the move means 32 temporary voting locations from Dunlevy Street to Burrard Street.

The mobile service is an extension of what the city provided in the previous election for patients in hospitals and residents in long-term care centres. The city will now offer 90 of what they call “special voting facilities” leading up to election day.

This year’s mobile service began Tuesday at Covenant House on Drake Street and will conclude Oct. 19 at the WISH drop-in centre for women on Alexander Street. Other stops will include the First United Church shelter, the Evelyne Saller Centre, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Oppenheimer Park and Union Gospel Mission on East Hastings.

What the voter will see is a “mini” version of a voting place, with a vote tabulator, ballots, ballot box and staff on hand with a laptop to check off voters’ names, said Hagiwara, who couldn’t predict a definite number of how many people might use the service.

“I think, on average, a lot of the places will have 100 to 200 [people], but it really depends on whether they will participate or not,” she said. “But we are ready for them.”

Paul Hendren, the city’s election outreach lead, said the combined geographic areas of the central business district and Hastings corridor had the lowest voter turnout in 2014 at 34.1 per cent. He said it wasn’t much better in Strathcona at 39.4 per cent.

Hendren said many factors could be attributed to the low turnout, including people who have never voted and don’t plan to, and those who don’t have access to computers and media to know about an election. Travel is another factor.

He and others from the city have been visiting the Downtown Eastside since June to educate more people about the election, the issues and how to get on the voters’ list. The city is also working with community groups and identified peers to work as “election ambassadors.”

“It’s not a politically disengaged community,” Hendren said of the Downtown Eastside. “The people down there are very interested in this election and they want information and they seem excited to vote.”

Jeremy Hunka, a spokesperson for Union Gospel Mission, said the facility will open its doors Oct. 11 and Oct. 16 for the city’s mobile election crew. Hunka said the service removes barriers for voters who might not otherwise get a chance to vote in the Oct. 20 election.

“People in our community, quite frankly, have more at stake than the average person in this election,” he said, noting the number of homeless people and others living with a mental illness or drug addiction, or both. “They’re the most vulnerable and their voice needs to be just as loud as anybody else.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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