The decisions that have led to voter suppression in East Vancouver are to stand. The City Elections Officer will brook no opposition to her plans regardless of our press conferences, our letters and emails, and what many are now calling a human rights violation.
On this map from CityHallWatch, in which 2km and 4km circles have been marked around the available advance polling stations, the huge gap excluded from those circles is shown clearly — a gap covering the Downtown Eastside, Grandview, Strathcona, Cedar Cove, Hastings Sunrise, Cedar Cottage and much of Mount Pleasant. This is our Democracy Desert.
More than 44 organizations — including the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, GWAC, and OCOP — signed on to a letter to the Cheif Elections Officer (and many others wrote directly) complaining about the obvious disenfranchisement represented by the lack of advance polling stations in East Vancouver.
It can be no coincidence that the areas left outside advance voting are neighbourhoods comprising a majority of the City’s poor, disadvantaged, mentally challenged, and seniors. It is these citizens that the Chief Elections Officer has decided are to be seriously inconvenienced if they want to try to vote in advance, by walking long distances or paying for transit. In the more privileged areas of the City, where the majority already have the means to be easily mobile, there are no such barriers, with advance polling stations handily situated.
All this unmitigated inequality is obvious from a glance at the map to anyone who understands Vancouver. Unfortunately, the response from the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) simply ignores the facts, ignores the excruciating political optics that are powerfully reminiscent of redlining and gerrymandering, and makes the situation worse both by admitting the gap was known about more than a year ago, and by omitting assurances for the future.
One of the reasons the CEO gives for not adding stations to service East Vancouver is that the current arrangement was negotiated with locations more than a year ago. So she knew then that this democracy desert was to be created; and she did nothing to correct or ameliorate the situation.
The CEO’s response goes on to suggest that necessary logistical requirements (32 booths, space for 1,000, etc) cannot be added at new locations at this late stage. However, three East Vancouver locations — Union Gospel Mission, Britannia Community Centre, and Trout Lake Community Centre — have all said they can accomodate the CEO’s schedules and requirements.
Therefore, the CEO’s refusal to add one or more stations can only be considered willful and in no way legitimate. The Office is failing in its core duty to provide a fair and equal election.
Looking to the future, the CEO’s response letter failed to give assurances that this unequal voting system would be corrected for any elections ahead. We know the date of the next election, in 2018. Why can’t the Chief Electoral Officer book enough space right now to ensure the enfranchisement of the entire city at the next election? They should make those locations known right away to dispel any idea some of us might get that the current immoral inbalance in voting rights is to be a permanent feature of Vancouver politics.
Finally, this whole sorry mess raises the question of why the Vancouver Charter obliges the City to appoint a City employee as the Chief Elections Officer? Vancouver needs a fully independent elections commission, whether that be BC Elections or a new body. Elections must be seen to be honest, and only a fully independent body can do that.