She got a voter card, but she’s a permanent resident who can’t vote in Ontario

Maneet Nagra's situation raises questions about why permanent residents cannot vote, especially following an election that saw the lowest voter turnout in Ontario's history.

Doug Ford's government has the power to let permanent residents vote, but will it act?

Maneet Nagra wanted to vote in last Thursday's Ontario election, and she even got a voter card in the mail. All she had to do was head to the polling station with one piece of ID and mark an X.

One big problem held her back: she's a permanent resident and therefore isn't allowed to vote.

"I got the card and I thought I could vote. I got kind of excited. And then, I searched it out and it turns out I can't," Nagra told CBC Toronto.

Nagra, now 20, was born in the U.S. during a family vacation. She came back to Brampton as an infant and has called the city home ever since; going to school here, paying taxes here and one day, she hopes, voting here.

Currently, voting — at the municipal, provincial and federal level — remains a right afforded only to Canadian citizens.

But Nagra's situation raises questions once again about why permanent residents cannot vote, especially following an election where early data shows Ontario had its lowest voter turnout since Confederation.

"If they let permanent residents vote, it would encourage a whole new set of people to vote. And then they wouldn't be having these problems where they're not getting enough people voting," she said.

Permanent residents 'aren't tourists'

Ontario, as Canada's largest province, has a huge number of permanent residents.

According to Statistics Canada, Ontario admitted 198,435 permanent residents in 2021 and more than 50,000 in the first quarter of this year alone.

"These aren't tourists. They're not just stopping through for fun. These are people who live here. Their kids go to school here," said Dave Meslin, creative director of Unlock Democracy Canada.

"I think the question is: why wouldn't you let them vote? The idea of democracy is that people should have some control over their life and their neighbourhood and the places they live."

Premier Doug Ford's government holds the power to change the system, for both provincial and municipal elections, the latter of which will be conducted this October.

CBC Toronto asked the government if it would consider changing the rules but hasn't received a response. This story will be updated when the government provides a statement.

Last Friday, Ford, hours after winning a larger majority government than he entered the campaign with, told reporters he's not considering electoral reforms, though he didn't comment directly on the issue of whether or not permanent residents should be allowed to vote.

Letting non-citizens vote is not a novel idea.

In fact, New Brunswick is poised to allow permanent residents there the chance to vote in the next municipal elections, currently slated for 2026.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus of politics at Toronto Metropolitan University, said there are more than 50 countries in the world that extend voting rights to those who are not yet citizens.

"So it's not like this is … a really radical or wild proposition," Siemiatycki said.

He says he believes governments haven't shown greater flexibility in rethinking voting rights because they fear pushback from people who may not like the idea of those rights being extended to non-citizens.

Elections Ontario says data input issue led to Nagra getting voter card

CBC News asked Elections Ontario why Nagra was mailed a voter card when she wasn't eligible to vote.

In a statement, the agency said "updates are made to the voters list on an ongoing basis using information from federal, provincial, and municipal sources, or through direct updates from voters at the polls or through eRegistration."

It went on to say: "If anyone who is ineligible to vote is included on the voters list it sometimes means that, at some point, a person completed a form with inaccurate information and submitted it to one of our data partners."

Siemiatyck said he figures Nagra's issue may be caused by Elections Ontario no longer going door-to-door to build its voter lists and instead relying on various data sources.

Nagra maintains she never declared herself a citizen and said she still doesn't know how she wound up on the list. She plans to reach out to Elections Ontario to return her voter information card.

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