Election poll confusion in the South Okanagan

Though Kaleden has its own polling station, a portion of its population is being directed to vote in Penticton on Oct. 19.

Though the little community of Kaleden has its own polling station, a portion of its population is being directed to vote in Penticton on Oct. 19.

“I asked my wife why we had to vote in Penticton, then I got calls from neighbours who said they have been instructed to vote at the South Main Seniors’ Drop-in Centre,” said Tom Siddon, who represents the area to the Regional District South Okanagan Similkameen.

“It’s appalling to send people to town when we have always had a polling station here in Kaleden,” said Siddon. “It makes no sense to drive eight kilometres each way to vote when we can vote in the community, virtually across the street.”

Bob Handfield, another Kaleden resident, is also being directed to vote in Penticton. He’s concerned the distance could cause issues for neighbours who have problems getting around.

“It is not that big a deal for me, it is not going to stop me from voting,” said Handfield, who drove to the Elections Canada office to ask about the change. He was told he had to go to the polling station listed on his registration card and was given an address where he could write to complain.

“That won’t do any good now,” said Handfield.

Like Handfield, Siddon — who is a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister — has lived in Kaleden for many years and voted at a local polling station.

Siddon said he and his wife inquired at the local Elections Canada office they were simply told ‘this is the way it is being done.’

“We have many people, especially the elderly — I am one of those but not quite there — but we have people in their 80s, who don’t particularly like to drive to town and have always voted in Kaleden and now they are annoyed,” said Siddon.

Both Siddon and Handfield were told the change was made in an attempt to equalize the number of people voting at all the polling stations.

“Obviously, they don’t have a clue — whoever did this — about the geography of where people live and how far they have to drive,” said Siddon. “Why don’t we use what we have for people in the community to vote,” he said. “Whenever we have gone to the local polling station, there is never a lineup. You are out of there in five minutes.”

Rebecca Post, Election Canada’s returning officer for the South Okanagan West Kootenay riding, said she was unable to comment.

“I am not supposed to speak to the media other than factual information. This is an opinion,” said Post referring the question to Dorothy Sitek, Election Canada’s media advisor for B.C.

“It is important that polling locations be located at a reasonable distance for electors,” said Sitek, stressing the word reasonable. “It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in the same neighbourhood is going to be sent to the same polling location.”

Sitek said there are a wide variety of factors that go into choosing a polling location, which is done by local Elections Canada officials.

“Any adjustments are made at the local level. That is the person who is in the best position to help you, if a change is required,” said Sitek. She added that there are a number of options for voting, including voting via mail.

“You can request a special ballot kit to be mailed to you and you can do that right up until Oct. 13. We need time to mail the kit to you and you need time to mail it back to meet the deadline of Oct. 19,” said Sitek.

Siddon expects there are likely to be more hiccups and speculates the change may be due to a computer system reallocating where they vote, without human involvement.

“In Kaleden, we have a high demographic of older people. Those things they don’t consider,” said Siddon. “It’s a sign of the way things are done, in an impersonal way.”