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Nova Scotia makes it easier to cast a ballot

Bruce and Nancy Gurnham at their home near Annapolis Royal, N.S., on Sept. 26, 2013. Bruce, who has cancer, was allowed to vote from home for the upcoming provincial election.

Paul Darrow/The Globe and Mail

There are days when Bruce Gurnham's cancer makes it difficult for him to get out of his chair and he could not contemplate travelling to a polling station to vote in Nova Scotia's provincial election.

His wife, Nancy Gurnham, 57, is providing her 64-year-old husband with palliative care in their home in Annapolis Royal. She can't leave him alone which means she too faced difficulties in casting a ballot.

But the Gurnhams have voted in every election – federal, provincial and municipal – throughout their married lives. And they did not want to miss this one. So, when Elections Nova Scotia explained that they could vote in their own living room, Ms. Gurnham said she was delighted.

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"We received a phone call explaining the program and saying that a neighbour had referred us," she said in a telephone interview.

Two representatives of the elections agency "showed up right when they said they were going to. They came in with their little sealed ballot box, explained the whole procedure, and in 10 minutes they were in and out. My husband and I both voted, and we were thrilled, absolutely thrilled."

Allowing people with mobility problems to vote at home is just one of the ways that Nova Scotia is making it easier for people to cast a ballot.

The actual election day is Oct. 8 but, until the advance polls begin next Thursday, Nova Scotians can mark their X at a returning office any day but Sundays.

They can also vote anywhere in the province and have their vote count in their home riding – a measure that was expected to hold particular appeal for college and university students living away from their families. And polling stations are being set up on campus throughout the campaign.

The slate of election innovations was introduced to combat the declining voter turnouts that have been experienced in jurisdictions across Canada, especially among the younger demographic.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 16,000 people had marked an early ballot, said Dana Doiron, the director of policy and communications for Elections Nova Scotia. That's only a small fraction of the province's 700,000 eligible voters but Mr. Doiron said it is too soon to tell how many others will take advantage of the new system.

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An audit team made up of members of other provincial election management bodies including Elections B.C., Elections Alberta and Élections du Québec will observe what worked and what didn't and relay their thoughts to Nova Scotia.

At the same time, said Mr. Doiron, "they are here because they would like to see how it works and assess for themselves whether they want to implement it" in their own provinces.

Television crews who interviewed students lining up to vote this week at Dalhousie University in Halifax received much positive feedback.

Jennifer Nowoselski, a 26-year-old political science student, was not one of them.

"It's convenient that we can vote out of our district now and that there is more accessibility on voting," said Ms. Nowoselski. But none of the parties is addressing students' concerns, she said. "Accessibility isn't the only issue. The relevance to students is more important than how accessible it is, in my opinion."

So, not all the issues that suppress voter turnout have been overcome.

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But, for Ms. Gurnham, the changes have eliminated a worry.

"It just makes me crazy when people don't vote," she said. "It's a huge privilege. They say it's 'a right.' But really we are just lucky that we live in a country that calls it 'a right,' because it is a privilege. And to not exercise that is very, very sad."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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