A lot has been written about changes to the voting process in Canada. Yes, some things have changed, and yes, Elections Canada Chief Electoral Officer has warned that the changes contained in the Fair Elections Act “will not serve Canadians well”. But with October 19th upon us, what is important now is that everyone who wants to vote, can. In addition to a handful of great voter registration clinics working within First Nation communities, here’s a crib sheet of what you need to know:
1. You don’t have to register in advance to vote.
If you receive a voter information card in the mail, you’re registered to vote. You can also register online. But you don’t have to. And some reserve addresses won’t be recognized by the online form. Instead, you can register at the same place and time as you vote (called a polling station), by showing the same ID you need to vote.
2. If you have a driver’s licence, bring it with you.
A driver’s licence with your current address listed is all you need in order to register and vote. A provincial ID card, which some people get to show ID when they don’t have a driver’s licence, is also sufficient, but if you’re using your Indian Status Card you need an additional piece of ID.
3. An Indian Status Cards is acceptable ID, but you’ll need a second piece of ID.
If you don’t have a driver’s licence, you need two pieces of ID to register and vote. Both an Indian Status Card and a Band Membership Card fall into this category. The list of acceptable ID is listed here. At least one of them must show your current address.
4. The Band Administrator of a First Nation can issue a ‘Letter of Confirmation of Residence’ as proof of address.
If you have ID, but it doesn’t show your address, you can download and print a ‘Letter of Confirmation of Residence’ here. Your band administrator needs to sign it. The letter counts as one of the two pieces of ID you need to prove your identity to register and vote.
5. You do NOT need picture ID.
As long as you have two pieces of ID listed on the Elections Canada website here, that’s enough to register and vote. For example, a birth certificate and an a ‘Letter of Confirmation of Residence’ from your band administrator is enough, even though neither has a photo on it.
6. The homeless or other individuals of no fixed address can use a ‘Letter of Confirmation of Residence’ signed by the administrator of a soup kitchen or shelter as proof of address.
You still need a second piece of ID. The list of acceptable ID is listed here.
7. If you have two pieces of ID, but neither of them show your current address, you can sign an oath about where you live, as long as another valid voter backs you up.
A second person who is a valid voter will also have to sign an oath backing up your oath.
8. What happens if there is a long line up?
Because of changes to the election laws, lines in this election may be longer than normal. To avoid long waits, consider voting earlier in the day. If you already participated in advance voting, consider looking after your neighbour’s kids while they go and vote, or bring some food down to offer to people on their way inside to vote.
The voting hours of polling stations are listed here. If you are inside and waiting to vote when the polling station closes, you are still allowed to vote. Once the polling station closes, no one else will be allowed inside.
9. If you get a call saying that your polling place has moved, be wary.
Elections Canada reports that they will only move a polling station in extremely rare circumstances – for example, if there is a fire, flood, or power outage at the original polling place. Elections Canada will not contact you by phone, e-mail, text, or fax. If a polling place is moved at the last minute, Elections Canada staff will attend the old polling place and direct voters to the new one. Elections Canada also maintains an updated online directory of where to vote, here.
10. If someone gives you incorrect information about where or when to vote, you can make a complaint.
You can make a complaint online, or by phone. The information you need is here.
Out of 24 million eligible voters in the last federal election, 9 million Canadians didn’t vote; this number was larger than all of the votes for the opposition parties combined. Election Canada reported in 2011 that “the effect of living on a First Nations reserve is a decrease of 7-8 percentage points in the probability of casting a ballot… 9-10 percentage points for those Aboriginals living on rural reserves.” Reducing barriers to aboriginal voters remains a targeted focus of Elections Canada. But whether these efforts will materialize in 2015 following an 8% cut to the non-partisan organization’s budget, remains to be seen.
Ultimately, what is clear is that the biggest factor in deciding the next federal government in Canada will be the number of people who get out and vote.