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Elections BC allows prescription bottles as voter ID in Downtown Eastside

A Downtown Eastside outreach organization and Elections BC have come up with a creative way to make voting more accessible to residents in the Vancouver neighbourhood.

Many residents in the area lack the necessary government-issued identification needed to vote. This year, however, Elections BC is making a exception specific to the Downtown Eastside by allowing people to bring in prescription bottles as a form of ID.

The Election Act requires voters to provide two pieces of ID to vote, one containing their residential address. A prescription pill bottle can be used as one form of ID, but residents are still required to provide a second piece, and one must contain an address.*

"We don't expect it to be this huge dent that will shift the tide in voter turnout, but (the acknowledgment) that we, as a province, are saying, 'Everyone matters and needs the opportunity to vote' is a big step," said Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Keela Keeping. The organization partnered with Elections BC to make the change.

"Even if it changes something for five people, that's five people that couldn't vote before. If it's 20 or 100, that's even better," she said.

Residents without ID in the Downtown Eastside already have trouble accessing housing, opening bank accounts and cashing cheques, she said. In Keeping's opinion, the most meaningful aspect of the change is not getting more people to the polls, but getting the word out to the community that they now have the opportunity to do so.

"Down here, there's just a lot of giving up and assumptions that they can't participate," said Keeping. "I think a lot of people in this community are marginalized and used to not having access, so they don't even try."

The UGM is hosting three pre-registration drives at its drop-in facility on April 9, 10 and 18. There will also be advance polls at the Maurice McElrea Place, its housing facility, from May 8 to 11.

In the past, the nearest voting poll was in Strathcona. Some Downtown Eastside residents were uncomfortably voting there, Keeping said, because there was no one "like them" at the polling station. To address that, Elections BC is hiring people from within the neighbourhood to run the polls at the UGM.

"People in this community are more politically aware than people may be aware of," said Keeping.

Another partner in the initiative to get Downtown Eastside residents engaged is the LifeSkills Centre, a local non-profit that will encourage people to acquire ID and can help issue it to them.

Elections BC has also reached out this year by updating their voters list, specifically targeting First Nations, students, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.

Carly Rhianna Smith is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

*Story clarified April 3 at 3:55 p.m.

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