Portsmouth candidate alleges voter apathy amongst Queen’s administrators

Queen’s says its’ following guidelines shared by other universities

The candidate is concerned with his lack of access to students in residence.
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Oren Nimelman, candidate for city council in the Portsmouth District, said Queen’s is being apathetic towards the student vote. 

Candidates are actively campaigning ahead of the Kingston municipal election on Oct. 24. Nimelman said he attempted on many occasions to get access to Queen’s residence buildings and community housing to campaign door-to-door. 

“When I was managing NDP campaigns, you have polling data, you understand the factor by which your support accounts are going to translate very likely to vote. Because there's no polling, I don't know if I'm first place or second place or third place,” Nimelman said. 

Nimelman said he won’t know how many people will turn out to vote despite him pushing hard for the student and tenant vote. 

“[University students] are the generation that shows up to protests expecting tear gas, and you bring oven mitts and tennis rackets. I refuse to believe that you guys don't give a s—,” Nimelman said. 

Nimelman alleged Queen’s administration has policies in place to make it impossible to do meaningful voter engagement which translate into near-zero turnout. 

In trying a face-to-face campaign, Nimelman said he hoped staff at the University would care and allow him to pursue it. He says he was allowed “symbolic gestures” and few alternatives to access student voters in residence.  

Jean Royce Hall, John Orr, and An Clachan Towers fall in the Portsmouth District.

Nimelman said most people assume candidates win or lose based on media appearances, but he believes the canvassing of communities has the biggest impact.

“What you're doing when you're knocking on doors isn't just telling people about issues. You're determining where your supporters are [...] During the last stage, you do what's called a Get Out the Vote effort,” Nimelman said. 

This is designed to ensure all possible supporters arrive at the polls to vote. 

“Legally, a candidate is required to be given access to apartment buildings, condominiums, gated communities—if they don't let a candidate in to engage with voters, they get fined,” Nimelman said. 

Agreeing there were exemptions for canvassing among sensitive populations, Nimelman said he doesn’t believe Queen’s should use these exemptions for all residence buildings. He believes students living in residence should be accessible to candidates running in political office. 

“What it means is that no meaningful voter engagement can be done on campus; it guarantees near-zero voter turnout,” Nimelman said. 

When asked if other universities in Ontario allowed door-to-door campaigning in residence buildings, Nimelman said he wasn’t sure, but said other universities would find candidates a “meaningful” alternative to door-to-door campaigning. 

“Universities do something that tries to replace [door-to-door campaigning], by allowing tabling in extremely high traffic areas where people can access, or they'll door drop themselves. I got no such offer from Queen’s residence.”

Nimelman also discussed the issue of students living in Queen’s residence not being automatically enrolled into the voter rolls. According to Nimelman, all other landlords are required to give the names of those living in their dwellings who can vote.

“What Queen's University can do is allow voter engagement in residence exactly the same as is legally required in a regular apartment building,” Nimelman said.

Nimelman said it took him two months to get access to the John Orr and An Clachan Towers. 

“The law requires access between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. They said they would only allow it Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m,” Nimelman said.

“The only thing that ended up working was I emailed the City and I said I am not being given the access I'm legally required to be given [and] I would like you to initiate fines. Only after that, after two months, they sent an email saying, if you show up any time you're legally allowed to, we'll make sure security lets you in.”

Nimelman hopes to see the canvassing policy change at Queen’s so more students can be engaged in the democratic process. 

“What I would do if I were the Queen's administration [is] stop treating them like children [...] These are young adults; these are people who are learning to navigate their way through the world. These are scholars and there is no need to protect them from the exact same canvassing that happens at every single apartment building and condominium.”

In a statement to The Journal, the University said they’re committed to ensuring students have the information required to engage in the electoral process.

They added they’ve shared details on where and how to vote in all-student monthly newsletters and residence communications. 

“Door-to-door campaigning is prohibited on the bedroom floors of university residences as these are private, dormitory-style spaces and are unlike apartments and or condominium complexes,” the University said.

“The City of Kingston shared information that was distributed to students and had representation at an orientation event on campus in September.”

The University said candidates can book space in lobbies at each residence dining hall, including Jean Royce Hall, Ban Righ, and Leonard, and can connect with the Residence Society. 

“These political campaigning guidelines have been shared with electoral candidates by the City of Kingston and are consistent with guidelines shared at other universities across the province, including the University of Toronto.”

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