New Orleans Community Life Services, a community service wing of the University of Ottawa, worked with ACORN Canada in Ottawa on a fascinating project that is now starting to take shape and produce some interesting conclusions – and questions – about the ways that the placement of voting stations may curiously and adversely impact the ability to vote. Questions frankly, which should in fact concern us no matter the country where we are voting.
The research over a series of municipal elections in Ottawa over the last 10 years started with the question of whether or not voting locations were placed based on population density, i.e. appropriately where the most registered voters lived, or whether they were sited based on where the most people voted, in other words based on voter turnout. Philosophically, the research team of students and professors thought that the most democratic placement method would have been by population density, in essence encouraging voters regardless of their voting histories, but suspected they were placed to reward frequent voters more than potential voters.
What they found was a mixed bag of almost unintelligible mischief.
At one level the early results seem to indicate in Ottawa that voter turnout was not the driver. In fact surprisingly the numbers indicated that the more voters turned out in various geographical areas, the fewer polling stations they received!
But on the other hand they also found that in wards like those including Vanier, one of the lower income, highest population areas in the city, when compared to other districts of the ward, they were disproportionately underrepresented with significantly fewer polling places. Adding injuring to insult, the polling stations in the 10-years of elections studied also tended to be more mobile in the lower income areas with frequent moves.
The results and the full report are due to be released soon in Canada and will also be published in the summer issue of Social Policy magazine, but the questions are critical and not studied enough in these times when elections are so contested and contentious. Groups are lining up on both sides of the political aisles in the United States to elect Secretaries of State in order to try to put their fingers on the voting scale and tilt turnout their direction. The same has frequently been the pattern in city and county election commissioners throughout the land.
This rock needs to be turned over for a good look to see if voters are on equal footing come Election Day.