Students get hands‑on with the federal election

- October 4, 2019

The voting office at Dalhousie will be open for five consecutive days in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Student Union Building (SUB). (Emma Jones photo)
The voting office at Dalhousie will be open for five consecutive days in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Student Union Building (SUB). (Emma Jones photo)

Students in a third-year Political Science class at Dalhousie will get to make the most of this month’s federal election, operating the voting office on campus for an election experience that’s about as hands-on as it gets.

It’s an idea that started with the 2015 federal election, when Elections Canada launched a pilot project with on-campus voting offices that allowed students to easily register and vote by special ballot. Political Science Professor Louise Carbert was quick to see the opportunity for experiential learning in her class.

“It's a third-year class in Canadian politics, so they know quite a bit about Canadian politics, but this is an opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of how elections actually work,” says Dr. Carbert. “The point of the exercise is to learn about elections administration and to see how the whole complicated, bureaucratic operation of Elections Canada in works in practice.”

Putting theory into practicum

By working with Elections Canada, Dr. Carbert was able to develop a paid practicum that integrates into the course curriculum, with accompanying assignments and readings. Designed to provide insight into elections administration, the practicum includes an in-class orientation from Elections Canada and in-depth training before they take on their roles as poll clerks and registration officers at the campus voting office.

This year, Vote on Campus is a full-fledged program with increased hours and days of operation so the students will have even more opportunity to participate.

How to vote on campus

The voting office at Dalhousie will be open for five consecutive days in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Student Union Building (SUB). Voters must bring ID that proves identity and address.

  • Saturday Oct. 5th: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Sunday Oct. 6th: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Monday Oct. 7th: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday Oct. 8th: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday Oct. 9th: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

While Dr. Carbert says this level of involvement in the administrative activities of an election provides the class with great learning and perspective, her students’ knowledge about Canadian politics is also helpful to the voters. “One thing that makes these students particularly suited to this work,” she says, “is that people will come in wanting to vote for Justin Trudeau, for example, and the students are able to explain how the Canadian electoral system works.”

Voting by special ballot

Training for this work is in-depth because the Political Science students will be walking voters through the process of using the special ballot process. Instead of using a paper list of voters, registration officers will check ID and confirm information on a computer and then supply each voter with a blank ballot so they can write in the name of their preferred candidate (they can ask for a list of candidates in their riding).

“This is being operated on campus by students but it's not exclusive to students,” notes Dr. Carbert. “It's on campus to promote youth voter engagement but any Canadian can come and vote. That said, it's a write-in ballot: you have to be sure to spell everything correctly, so your ballot won't be spoiled.”

A rewarding experience

Out of a class of about 30, only two students won’t be filling paid Elections Canada positions. The first, as an international student, is not eligible to work as a poll worker and will be accommodated with related activities. The second, has decided to continue working for a specific candidate and will use that experience for his report.

“It’s a requirement of the course that he do not just canvassing but also some elections administration,” Dr. Carbert explains. “So, he's going to be working at a polling station on October 21st in a capacity with the political party."

The election administration assignment is valued at 30 per cent of the students’ grades and it includes a fun, practical component. Once the practicum has concluded, Dr. Carbert wants all the students to summarize their experience as if they were writing for their resume or LinkedIn profile. She finds it’s a great way to get the students thinking about how this could benefit them in the future.

“For Political Science students to go out working in political-related jobs in the public sector, this is a really nice entry on their resumé.”


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