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Vancouver’s mobile voting stations open the door to homeless voters

Kevin wanted to vote in this year’s municipal election, but he wasn’t sure if he could meet the registration requirements

By Ben Mussett , in City , on October 27, 2018

Kevin wanted to vote in this year’s municipal election, but he wasn’t sure if he could meet the registration requirements.

The 32-year-old is currently homeless and recently had his passport stolen, leaving him without any identification.

But Kevin was ultimately able to cast a ballot because of the City of Vancouver’s new efforts to accommodate its most marginalized voters.

For the first time, the city brought mobile advance voting stations to shelters and social-service agencies, mostly located throughout the Downtown Eastside. Previously, mobile voting had been limited to hospitals and care facilities.

A mobile voting station set up at The Hall at Venables Street and Commercial Drive.

The city also embraced more lenient rules around voter identification, diminishing a common voting barrier among homeless people.

Generally, two pieces of identification are required to vote. If someone only has one piece, they can sign a solemn declaration to assert their identity and the location of where they are staying — even if it is a temporary shelter — in lieu of the second piece of ID.

This year, the rules allowed people with no ID to vote as well. In addition to a solemn declaration, a voter could ask a staff member at their shelter to sign an attestation form to vouch for their identity, which counted as their second piece of ID.

“When [election workers] had stated that it was okay if we didn’t have ID, that was my cue right there to vote,” said Kevin, who likely would have been unable to vote at a general polling station where shelter staff were not present to attest to his identity.

No permanent advance polls in DTES 

In spite of that, newly elected city councillor Jean Swanson felt the city didn’t do enough to engage vulnerable voters.

“What we need in the Downtown Eastside is a proper advanced poll, like they have in other communities,” argued Swanson, a longtime anti-poverty advocate.

The city set up more than 30 mobile voting stations in the 10 days preceding the election, but they  operated within a small window, staying at each location for no more than three hours at a time. There was no permanent advance-voting station in the DTES.

The permanent stations were located in areas where voter turnout had been high in past years, said Paul Hendren, Vancouver’s election outreach lead. They stayed open longer than the mobile stations, 12 hours every day from Oct. 10 to 17.

Signs advertising a mobile voting station off of Commercial Drive.

Hendren said the city made a deliberate decision to prioritize mobile voting in the DTES.

“It allows us to provide a more specialized service in locations where people in the community feel comfortable,” Hendren said.

Though Swanson thought more could have been done, organizations that hosted mobile voting stations, such as the Union Gospel Mission and the Covenant House, commended the city’s new efforts to assist marginalized voters.

“People need to understand that it’s not as easy as just walking to a voting booth and making it happen. There’s a whole lot more going on in somebody’s life,” said Jeremy Hunka, a spokesperson for UGM.

“If these mobile voting stations weren’t here, the vast majority of people who voted at UGM wouldn’t have voted.”