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Residents, students speak out about polling station hurdles

Voters who have concerns over the location of their polling stations are out of time to have changes made.

Voters who have concerns over the location of their polling stations are out of time to have changes made.

Over the long weekend, Sunrise Mobile Home Park resident Sherry Godyn helped friends and neighbours get to an advance polling station at Ron Brent elementary school because the prospect of making it to College Heights on election day was too daunting.

The Lansdowne Drive residents have been assigned to the Polaris Montessori school on Gladstone Drive, which is roughly five kilometres and a 10-minute drive away. But for those without access to a vehicle, that trip becomes a little more difficult.

"There's a lot of people down here that don't know where that is," Godyn said.

According to Google Maps, it takes more than an hour to make the trip one way via public transit, which will be free on election day.

Voters were invited on their voter information card to contact their local returning officer at the provided phone number if they had any concerns or questions about polling locations, said Elections Canada spokesperson Dorothy Sitek.

"The only option now is to vote on election day at the polling location on each voter's Voter Information Card," she said in an email.

The opportunity for voting by special ballot, which could be picked up at the Elections Canada office and brought home has also passed, as the deadline to request the special ballots was Tuesday.

Godyn said she wants to help those who have reached out to her, but she's also recovering from knee replacement surgery. During previous elections, the polling station was within a reasonable walking distance - at either Van Bien elementary school or at another location near Superstore - for those healthy enough to make the trip, said Godyn.

"Elections Canada has made it inaccessible and I don't know why," she said.

University of Northern B.C. students are also frustrated over what they see as additional barriers to voting.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Elections Canada, Northern Undergraduate Student Society president Duncan Malkinson drew attention to the fact there isn't a polling station at the Prince George campus.

The 538 students who live in residence at UNBC are assigned to vote at John McInnis secondary school on Westwood Drive.

"Young demographics have been sorely underrepresented in previous elections," Malkinson wrote in his letter. "The Northern Undergraduate Student Society wants to do all that it can to make sure that accessibility is not a barrier and to see this trend bucked."

Malkinson said he was getting getting inquiries from students about opportunities to vote on campus before the election was even called and had been in correspondence with Elections Canada in August about the possibility of having a polling station at the school.

College of New Caledonia students also do not have a polling station on campus.

"The accessibility is certainly an issue and the fact we can't have a polling station up there is unfortunate," he said, noting NUGGS will continue to push for an on-campus location in future elections.

"I understand there are 39 campuses around Canada that have pop-up polls or mobile polls," Malkinson said. "Wherever that's a possibility in the future we'd certainly like to advocate for it."

There were conversations with the university about perhaps setting up some sort of shuttle bus service to the polling station on election day, but "similar efforts in the past have been sort of underutilized," said Malkinson. "So we've been in talks with a few of the riding associations to see if rides can be arranged the day of, just so that we can reach out and bridge that gap that exists."