In Hamilton, voting is a complicated and multifactorial process with several barriers that hinder voter turnout and equitable access . Although Hamilton’s municipal government has the most direct impact on the Hamilton community, voter turnout has remained at a low of only 38% . With recent research findings, low voter turnout has been correlated to specific demographic characteristics like being part of a visible minority, having immigrant status, and coming from a low socioeconomic background . To ensure that access to voting is equitable and fair, it is imperative that barriers to voting are addressed and removed .
A study by Elections Canada found that new Canadian immigrant status can be a barrier to voting . New immigrants to Canada often feel cultural and language barriers in the voting procedure. These people may have a different understanding of shared symbols, which may lead to misunderstandings and conflicts . Analogies that are grounded in cultural metaphors may lead to misinterpretation and confusion . Similarly, culture-specific nonverbal cues may be ineffective . Building rapport is difficult without cultural and everyday common ground; however, a shared effort in understanding and respecting differences in culture may be helpful in establishing a connection . The study by Elections Canada also found that people who struggle financially tend to be less likely to vote . These people may have difficulty taking time off of work and reduced ability to reach the voting centre(s) for their ward . Furthermore, some individuals have trouble reaching the voting centre due to disabilities . These individuals are limited in their movement and adaptability due to short-term or long-term impairments . They often require additional accommodations and more support in the form of transportation to access the polling place .
Addressing Existing Barriers Prior to and Upon Election Day
There were various steps taken prior to and upon election day to address some of the aforementioned barriers to voting. First, prior to the establishment of polling sites, a review of all polling locations was conducted with assistance from an Access and Equity Coordinator by using a Polling Location Report . The Elections website was updated to include candidates and voter specific information such as ballot locations, electoral candidates, hours and voting and additional election information . All Advance Poll locations were equipped with accessibility tabulators that would provide assistance to voters with sight, hearing and mobility difficulties . Special Advance Polls and Institutional Polls were established for accommodations with senior residents and retirement homes .
There are additional steps that are to be implemented upon election day to remove barriers to voting. This includes having all polling locations equipped with accessibility entrances and clear directions for their access . All voters will be provided with an example ballot that identifies the correct steps in marking the ballot . The option for curbside voting will also be available for voters that are unable to leave vehicles . Voters that are reliant on D.A.R.T.S. transportation will receive “Front of the Line Service”, while the D.A.R.T.S. driver waits for them to complete voting . Voters that need or choose to do so will also be allowed to bring a friend or family member for assistance while voting .
Overall, the city of Hamilton has identified several barriers to voting and taken steps to reduce the impact they have on voter turnout. They have addressed barriers to voting through implementing new protocols, providing additional accommodations for people of diverse needs, and ultimately increasing access to voting in an equitable manner.