Why You Can't Just Vote Anywhere

While working during the 2015 federal election in downtown Vancouver, the number one question I was asked while supervising a Polling Place was 'why can't I vote here?' This question arose from many who happened to be downtown for leisure or work but yet did not live within the Vancouver-Centre boundaries. After being told that they had to unfortunately vote at their specific Polling Place, the question then became: 'but I'm Canadian and if it's a federal election why can't I vote anywhere in the country?' While this is a seemingly fair question to ask, the answer really comes down to logistics and how the Canadian electoral system is structured.

First, it must be understood that in Canada we vote for candidates that will represent us in the House of Commons (in the federal government). In order for this to work, the country has been split up into 338 districts where candidates can run in elections to represent their constituency (the people within their district). Only one candidate can be elected in each of the 338 districts and only those people living within the district can vote for their specific candidates. With me so far? Basically what needs to be clear is that in Canada we do not vote for a party leader such as Justin Trudeau, nor do we vote for a specific party such as the Conservative party. Instead, we vote for a specific person within our local electoral district who we wish to represent us at the federal level. Yes these candidates are typically affiliated with a certain political party and have a party leader but  that is not who you are voting for at the polls.

The takeaway: we vote for a specific person within our electoral districts who we wish to represent us in the government. This person may or may not represent a specific political party but this is not directly related to your vote.

Once this has been understood, one must then realize that if he or she were to vote in a district where they do not live, they are voting for a candidate that will not represent them. The only way to get around this issue would be to have all 338 districts and every single candidate in the country listed on every ballot. With approximately 5 candidates running in each district, every ballot would need to have 1,690 +/- names listed and broken up into 338 different sections. OR instead, every Polling Place would need to have thousands of 338 different ballots and ensure each voter received the correct version based on where they live. This doesn't even begin to describe the confusion and difficulties regarding the number of ballot boxes and paperwork that would be required to accommodate such an election. Take my word for it, the system is complicated enough as is and could truly not handle that many different ballots. 

Is this to say we will always have to vote in our assigned district and Polling Place? 

For now yes, but likely not in the future. The electoral system, like most things controlled by the government, is old school and relies on endless amounts of paperwork and paper ballots. However, as the government slowly catches up with technology it can be hoped that one day all votes will be cast electronically either from specific polling places or even from home. This would allow every voter to vote for their representative regardless of where they are on election day. It should also be noted that the current system already allows for advanced voting which gives everyone an opportunity to vote ahead of election day in case they are out of town or won't have time. 

Hopefully this has cleared things up and not made it more confusing...

Braden McMillian