After years of talking about it, Kelowna has finally convinced the owners of the region’s largest mall, Orchard Park Shopping Centre, to let it locate a municipal election polling station there.
For the first time, Kelowna residents who will be at the popular mall on election day on Nov.19 will be able to cast their ballots while shopping.
“We want to be where the people are,” said City of Kelowna chief election officer Karen Needham.
“Kelowna residents live active lives and we want to provide a variety of voting locations that are both convenient and easy to access during their daily routines.”
Orchard Park general manager Norbert Gelowitz said the shopping centre agreed to give it a try after determining there would be both adequate space and parking, and that hosting the polling station would not disrupt the mall’s operation.
The polling station will be located in the open area near the Sport Chek store, just inside the entrance beside Tim Hortons.
The shopping centre is one of several new locations being used to house polling stations this year. Other locations include the Kelowna Family Y in Rutland and both the Okanagan College and UBCO campuses.
In total, there will be 11 polling stations this year, down from the 20 the city set up in 2008.
But Needham said the locations will be set up for this election in places where people will already be, rather than having voters make a special trip to a separate location.
After each civic election since the late 1990s, at least one councillor has suggested locating a polling station in Orchard Park Shopping Centre. But each time, city staff have told council the mall’s proprietors have refused the request.
The city is desperately trying to increase voter turnout after a paltry 11 per cent voted in the council bye-election in 2009 and less than 20 per cent voted in the 2008 general election.
Across the province, civic elections routinely draw around 30 per cent of eligible voters while province and federal elections attract a much higher voter turnout.
Needham said as far as she knows—and Gelowitz agreed—Kelowna is the first municipality to use a shopping mall as a polling station location.
Needham said she had heard from several other municipal chief returning officers in other communities who said they will be watching how it goes here with the aim of trying to do the same in their communities in future.
Voting at Orchard Park will take place on Nov. 19, from 8 a.m. until the mall closes at 6 p.m. All other election day voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Kelowna Family Y in Rutland Recreation Park will replace the polling station that was located in previous elections at neighbouring Rutland Secondary School. The recently expanded city facility now provides enough space for a polling station.
Okanagan College staff, students and nearby residents who are eligible to vote can head to the polls from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first day of advance voting, Wednesday, Nov. 9. The polling station will be located in the Centre of Learning.
At UBCO, a polling station will be set up the following week in the Student Union Building for advance voting on Wednesday, Nov. 16. It’s hours will also be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We want to remind residents that they can pick the place and voting day of their choice, as polling stations located across the city are open to all eligible voters,” said Needham.
“We’ve not only added new voting locations this year, we’ve also expanded the number of advance voting opportunities.”
For those who are less mobile, the city is also offering curbside voting at all polling stations, where an election worker will go out and assist residents to vote from their vehicle.
Special voting opportunities will also be offered at the Kelowna General Hospital and at some special care homes.
Voters can also contact the city to request a mail-in ballot.
For a complete list of voting locations and times, see kelowna.ca/election.
Currently, 39 potential candidates have picked up papers to run for the eight councillors positions and seven people have picked up papers to run for mayor.
It’s likely not all the packages will be returned. In 2008, 51 packages were picked up and there were 36 names on the ballot for councillor.
All the incumbents, with the exception of Coun. Andre Blanleil, have said they plan to seek re-election.