Election headaches for rural Mission voters

Stave Falls voters told to cast ballots on opposite end of town.

Darlene Schopman holds her voter card

Voters in the Stave Falls area are upset about being instructed to vote on the opposite end of the district – a trip they say will take more than half an hour and see them pass several other polling stations along the way.

When she received her voting card in the mail, Powell Street resident Darlene Schopman said she was surprised to see her poll location listed at Hatzic Prairie Hall, on the very opposite end of the District of Mission.

Schopman’s rural neighbourhood sits just east of the boundary between the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge electoral district and the newly created Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding. Last year, Schopman voted just down Dewdney Trunk Road at the Whonnock Scouts Hall, but with the creation of the new riding, poll locations left Stave Falls residents without a convenient place to cast their ballots.

“There are a lot of people fuming about it,” she said.

Schopman called Elections Canada and, because she has a son with a disability, was able to get transferred to a polling station at the much-closer Silverdale elementary. But she worries the distant polling station will stop others from voting.

“It’s making it more difficult for some people, who are borderline voters.”

Adding to the aggravation is that en route to their designated voting location, residents could pass several other polling stations, many within a 20-minute drive. Schopman said she’s learned that residents on nearby Carr Street can vote at Silverdale.

Elektra Jordan, Schopman’s neighbour, also received a voter card sending her to Hatzic Prairie Hall.

Upon receiving her card, she called Elections Canada to inquire about the decision-making process. She said she was told the Stave Falls area was lumped in with other rural locations, and that the Hatzic voting site was decided upon 18 months ago and couldn’t be changed. Jordan was also told she was not allowed to transfer to a more convenient location

“To me it seems quite ridiculous to be travelling 40 minutes away rather than driving 10 minutes down the road,” she said.

Jordan considered just showing up at a closer polling station with just her ID but not her voter card, which is not required to vote. Indeed, people can show up and register at any polling location, although the process may take a little longer. Jordan said she asked for other polling location, but was rebuffed by the employee on the phone.

In the end, Jordan ended up casting an early ballot last week in downtown Mission, rather than in Hatzic.

“I thought, this is dumb. There is no reason,” she said. “It encourages people not to vote.”

There may have been some attempts to resolve the issue.

Dewdney Trunk Road resident Bob Dickson told The Record he had received two cards in the mail: one directing him to Hatzic, the other to Silverdale. He ended up voting downtown ahead of time.

“Lots of people are ticked off with it,” he said. “Lots of people are not going to vote.”

A Wednesday search of the Elections Canada website, elections.ca, shows Powell Street residents are now being directed to Silverdale.

Elections Canada spokesperson Dorothy Sitek said she could not comment on the specifics of the Mission polling station as she did not have that information. She said The Record could attempt to contact returning officer Kathi Maria Kopan. But repeated efforts to do so failed. An employee said officials would send The Record an email regarding the matter, but no email was received by press time.

Sitek said people had many options to vote, pointing to the ability to cast mail-in ballots, or to vote early at Elections Canada offices.

“It is important that polling stations be located at a reasonable distance for electors,” she said. But when asked to define a reasonable distance, she said that was up to local officials.

Rural Mission residents aren’t the only voters voicing concerns about the organization of this election. In Winnipeg and Invermere, B.C., voters received two separate cards telling them to attend different polling stations. And in Ontario, one person reported being told to vote at a station 30 minutes away, rather than one across the road.

Election day is Oct. 19. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information about where and how people can vote can be found at elections.ca.

– with files from Kevin Mills

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