BCCLA: Cities must set up prison polling stations for elections

Letter sent to Maple Ridge council

BCCLA: Cities must set up prison polling stations for elections

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has written letters to nine B.C. municipalities and Corrections B.C. to ensure polling stations are set up for prisoners to vote in municipal elections in the fall.

The Local Government Act disqualifies from voting those persons who are prisoners serving more serious (indictable) offences and those who are being held in custody after being found not guilty on account of mental disorder.

But prisoners who are awaiting trial in prison (remand) and those convicted of summary offences who are in prison have the legal right to vote.

“It is imperative that those who have the right to vote be afforded the means to do so.  People held in jail who have not been convicted of any crime should not be denied their vote,” said Robert Holmes, president of the BCCLA.

“The law and their sentence does not deprive them of their right to vote and municipal governments should not, through inaction, do so either.  As prison populations grow, this issue will become more pressing, and this population more and more politically significant.”

Unlike provincial or federal elections, there is not a province-wide body like Elections B.C. to oversee municipal elections and ensure adequate polling stations and outreach in areas like prisons.

“B.C. has no centralized organization to oversee standards for voting and elections in municipalities.  That presents major difficulties getting the message through to many different communities that the law requires they make facilities available so that everyone entitled to vote can do so,” said Holmes. “We expect that cities will recognize their legal duties to ensure that everyone who may vote, can vote.”

The BCCLA has sent letters to Nanaimo, Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Prince George, Saanich, Surrey, Kamloops, and Port Coquitlam. The Association has also written to Corrections B.C. to assist eligible prisoners to vote.