Members of Edmonton’s homeless population voted in the municipal election at a special polling station set up at Boyle Street Community Services on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013.
Photograph by: Jane Slessor, Supplied
EDMONTON - The city’s homeless population got a chance to have a voice in the municipal election Monday thanks to two special voting stations set up at Boyle Street Community Services and the Bissell Centre.
Fifty-one people voted at the Boyle Street polling station, which was open for two hours Monday morning. Many of those voters were already at the outreach centre at 10116 105 Ave. for drop-in coffee time and didn’t know about the voting station, an effort by Elections Edmonton to make the election more accessible.
“People were really surprised,” said Jane Slessor, adult services manager. “I’d go up and say, ‘Do you want to vote?’ And they’d say, ‘I can’t get to the polling station,’ and I’d say, ‘We have one right here,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t have ID’ and I’d say, ‘You don’t need it.’ ”
Voting is difficult for people who call Edmonton home but have no fixed address or identification. The polling station at Boyle Street, located in Ward 6, was run by staff who had been trained as returning officers and know the voters because they regularly use Boyle Street Services. The voters also signed attestation papers indicating Edmonton is their home and it’s their first time voting in this election.
The concern beforehand was that someone might try to vote twice, but “we were twisting arms to get people to vote once, to convince them their vote is important,” Slessor said.
The attitude of “why would I vote, no one listens to me” lingered among Boyle Street regulars — “people here are pretty disengaged from the process at any level of government,” Slessor said — but there was a mood of pleasant surprise, too, that the city was making a special effort to hear their voices. “And to have familiar faces running it, that was a big deal.”
Voters were particularly interested in putting their weight behind candidates with aboriginal roots, including city councillor hopefuls Heather MacKenzie and Taz Bouchier. “People know Taz because she does a lot of work in the inner city and was an elder at the Remand Centre as well.
“And a lot of people asked if they could vote for me,” Slessor added, laughing. “Not this time. Maybe in four years.”
She noted the two-hour voting period was too short. She’s hoping the voting station can be set up from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. next time. “Even the Edmonton Elections people that came said, ‘We should be here longer.’ ”
The Bissell Centre didn’t have numbers available on voter turnout there.
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