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New citizens navigate ‘confusing’ process of voting for first time

September 19, 2021

By Vancouver Sun |

As soon as Vancouver resident Yu Chen took her oath of Canadian citizenship during a ceremony on Wednesday, she became eligible to vote.

However, with the privilege of casting a ballot comes a lot of unsettling unknowns for Chen, who migrated several years ago from China, where elections aren’t wholly democratic.

“I got my Canadian voter’s information card in the mail, but I don’t know where or how to actually vote,” she said. “I’m confused.”

It will be her first time participating in the electoral process on Monday. She is one of 20,657 new citizens eligible to vote in B.C. since the 2019 election, according to data acquired from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Chen has carved out some extra time from her workday to cast a ballot.

“I’m nervous, but excited,” she said. “I’ve been looking online to try and find out how best to use my vote for good in this province.”

Voting can be daunting, said Queenie Choo, the CEO of SUCCESS, an agency that is working with public funds to increase turnout among new voters in B.C.

“Some people from different cultures don’t comprehend English very well,” Choo said. “Others don’t know it’s their civic right, that they can get paid time off work to do it.”

Employees and volunteers at 120 SUCCESS offices throughout the Lower Mainland have been working to empower new electors to vote.

In the past months, they have distributed hundreds of translated voter information pamphlets to non-English-speaking citizens in communities across Metro Vancouver. Volunteers from the agency also plan on accompanying first-time voters to the polls Monday.

“They will speak the new voter’s language and support them through the entire process,” said Choo. Elections Canada said it also offers interpretation services at the polls if booked in advance.

It’s not only new citizens who need that push to get out and vote, said Daniel Bernhard, CEO of the national Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

“If we really want new Canadians to vote, we need to lead by example and show up ourselves,” according to Bernhard, a citizen by birthright, after his parents migrated to Canada in the 1970s. “My family saw voting as a privilege after having lived in a non-democratic country for most of their lives.”

Just over three-quarters of 56,000 Canadians surveyed in 2019 reported voting in that year’s federal election, according to Statistics Canada. Of those, naturalized citizens who had been in Canada for 10 years or less had a lower turnout rate, less than those who arrived more than a decade earlier.

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