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Homeless get a vote
By Wes Brown
The 2000 federal election will mark a first in Canadian history, as homeless people across the country will be extended a greater opportunity to vote.
James Hale, a spokesperson for elections Canada, said the iniative to help the homeless vote is an outreach program that has been put in place by chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Elections Canada.
"Our mandate is to make the voting process as accessible as possible. That includes 18 year olds, new citizens, as well as homeless people," he said.
In previous elections, Elections Canada was faced with difficulty enumerating homeless people, since they had no fixed addresses, Hale said.
But this year, all homeless people registering with one piece of identification and a signature at a shelter on Saturday, Nov. 25, will be able to cast their ballot in the Nov. 27 election. The shelters will act as a place of temporary residence for the homeless, Hale explained. "We've been working closely with shelters to ensure they have all of the information they need."
The enumeration process begins when preliminary voters lists are drawn up, followed by the revision list, where Hale explained they currently are right now. "It was at this point the window of opportunity for Elections Canada opened up on how to get the homeless to vote," he said.
Donna Strawson, manager of development and communications at the Fred Victor Centre, a Toronto shelter, said the program has been relatively positive and said it is important homeless people have finally been extended the ability to vote.
"We've had almost 300 people register here to vote, it's been a very good turnout so far," she said. "For years [the homeless] have been overlooked as a voting force. Giving them the opportunity to vote might force politicians to listen to their issues knowing they are a political force."
Strawson said in order for this program to work the proper support systems must be in place to inform new voters on the issues and not just have it turn into a token gesture.
However Miriam Lapp, assistant political science professor at Western, said that is exactly what this decision entails. "This is a fairly empty gesture on the part of the Liberals," she said, adding the initiative comes eight years after the Liberals gained office. "[The homeless] vote will not have much of an impact. I doubt the Liberals are fearful they will vote them out of office."
Lapp said it is still not as easy as it sounds for people to get enumerated. "Elections Canada leaves off people that are much easier to contact and have a place of residence," she said adding whether the homeless will even bother to vote is a whole other issue in itself.
"It is important to ensure as many citizens as possible have the right to vote but it is proven that those people in a lower socio-economic status have low voter turn-out. I can foresee the homeless having lower turn-outs than regular voters," she said.