Young voters make it count

It is the conventional wisdom of all political parties that young people will not vote. And the parties? They like it that way. Its why your tuition keeps going up.

Rick Mercer

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Sure, the CBC comedians deadpan delivery got laughs on a recent Rick Mercer Report, but the substance of the rant, now making the rounds on Facebook, hits on a serious note. Yes kids, Im here to talk to you today about voting.

Before you roll your eyes and head straight to the horoscopes and concert listings (yeah, we know why you really pick us up) hear me out: At the ripe old age of 28, I no longer fall into the abysmally under-represented youth voter category, but I was during the last federal election in which a whopping 28 per cent of B.C. residents aged 18-25 bothered to cast a ballot. And because apathy knows no age bounds, and Statistics Canadas next age box lumps the over-25s in with the over-50 set, Im willing to bet the rate for those under 30 isnt much better.

Politics nerd that I am, Ive never missed an opportunity to flex my democratic muscles by heading to the polls, though I get why some indeed most of my generational cohort would. Like dental check-ups and filing your taxes, its easy to shove voting down on the list of adult-type responsibilities youll get to later in life. Maybe.

All fine and good, until you wake up one day with a mouth full of cavities, Revenue Canada breathing down your neck, and some dead-eyed kitten-cuddler running the country spending your money on fighter jets and prisons, ruining your environment, and making your education even your Internet more expensive. I am of course speaking hypothetically, not referring to any one dead-eyed kitten-cuddler in particular...

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a political science professor at SFU also has sympathy for the unengaged young voter, or rather, non-voter. I dont think its the young voters fault, Griffin Cohen says. She blames politically disinterested youth on the failure of political parties, helmed almost uniformly by old white men with all the charisma of petrified wood, to reach out to youth on platforms they use, like this newfangled thing called the Internet. Nor do candidates broach issues young people care about, despite paying occasional lip service to the issue of tuition fees. And speaking of, students are run so ragged balancing a gajillion jobs to pay for school that they rarely have time to become politically informed, Griffin Cohen adds. I see young students who are taking three courses a term and working 35 hours a week. They are exhausted, so they have no time for the political discussion, and its escalated because of the increases in university fees. Chicken, meet Egg, discuss.

So, young people are off the hook if they claim ignorance, right? Wrong. Its not helpful if youre just picking a name because you like the name, says Griffin Cohen, but I would not counsel people not to vote. I would counsel parties to make sure that people have some kind of information about them and that it even reaches the youngest voters.

I dont have much faith in that happening any time soon. Certainly not in time for this federal election on May 2 (you did know about that, right?), and not on a scale that will make a significant impact. Like Rick Mercer, I think on many levels mainstream political parties like, even depend on, young people choosing to ignore the procedural cornerstone of our democratic system. Just imagine what would happen if we organized, engaged and realized that politicians work for us, not the other way around. Politics-as-usual in this country would likely look quite different.

We young ones are a force to be reckoned with. What with our Tweeting and Facebooking, Foursquaring and texting we are everywhere at once, unleashing torrents of criticism and scrutiny, and spreading gossip, news, current affairs, opinions and memes like wildfire. We are a hard group to please, we are hard to keep up with, we are savvy and smart and we can find out just about anything about anyone in less time than it takes to order a $5 latte at the coffee shops where we work. We have no excuses for being uninformed. So next time youre waiting for the bus (which could come a bit faster with more transportation funding from the government) or waiting on that latte (now with HST, thanks to the whims of government), spend a few minutes doing what you do so well, work that Google our Voting 101 guide tells you where to start and get up to speed on this whole voting thing. Its time to show the old white men whos boss. Jessica Barrett

Lauren Kresowaty, 24

Admin assistant, SFU

Political Views: Left-leaning

Top three election issues:

Government transparency/accountability

Health care

Planes and prisons (WTF??? Im against them)

Why vote?

We can already see that the Harper Government does not care about the opinion of the Canadian people. This is because they know their scandals, contempt of Parliament, etc. will not be reflected at the ballot box. The more you make a mockery of the Canadian political system, the less likely people are to think government makes a difference and to vote. The only way to make sure that governments are held accountable to Canadians is to ensure that they know that if they mess up, they will be voted out of office.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

Partially for the reasons listed above. Partially because we are all chasing our careers just trying to get a job and pay off that student loan or see the world before we get tied down to a home and family. Taking time out from that to get informed, register to vote, and actually show up at a polling station seems like too much work for a generation always on the go. Also, it is just blowing my mind that we cant register to vote online. And the theme of this years election campaigns for the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP seems to be middle class working families, quite a few of us dont have families yet.

What needs to happen to change that?

Allow people to register to vote online. Younger candidates may help, or at least candidates who really make an effort to reach out to young people and the issues we face.

April Smith, 25

Freelance videographer/photographer, publisher of social media site AhaMedia.ca, active in the DTES

Political views: Left-leaning

Top three election issues:

Housing

Health care

Education

Why vote?

If you dont vote, others will decide your future.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

Most politicians dont engage youth except during election time. They ignore us for three and a half years and then they start campaigning for the youth vote?! Meaningful youth and community engagement should happen all the time!

What needs to happen to change that?

We need better representation of all parties. Adopt social media: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. Politicians could start writing blogs, even if its a couple times a week. Youth would have more interest in voting if there is active youth and community engagement.

Nigel Elliott, 22

Student

Political Views: Libertarian

Top three election issues:

Restoring the economy

Electing a trustworthy government

Keeping taxation and

spending under control

Why vote?

Voting gives people the opportunity to make their voices heard in government. It is important that people hold the government accountable for its decisions.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

I think youth do not understand the real impact that politics has on their lives they dont feel that the issues at stake are relevant.

What needs to happen to change that?

Politicians need to show young people that they can have a real impact on the way that government is run and make an effort to encourage youths to add their input.

Steve Anderson, 29

National co-ordinator, OpenMedia.ca

Political Views: Moderate

Top three election issues:

Digital policy

Democratic renewal

Health care

Why vote?

One very tangible and timely reason to vote is that Internet governance has come to a head in this country and whomever we elect will be responsible for restructuring our communications system. We pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for Internet access, and this affects our economy, our communities, and the possibility for positive social change. You can find out which candidates are pro-Internet at VoteNet.ca.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

There is a bit of a self-fulfillingprophecy that young people dont vote and therefore shouldnt be engaged in political campaigns. Thus, it feels like our political leaders are not speaking to young people. More importantly, our democratic system does not adequately represent the will of Canadians, and a generation used to direct participationthroughsocial media finds the democraticdeficit in our elections disengaging.

What needs to happen to change that?

Politicians need to realize that young people can be engaged when they are approached on their own terms.But I also think young people need to realize that to be empowered they need to get engaged with politics as undemocratic and problematic as it can feel. But this isnt just about youth young people are just not as used to or as accepting of the status quo.

Alvin Singh, 27

Executive director,

Coalition of Progressive Electors

Political Views: Progressive

Top three election issues:

Support for cities

Environment

Electoral reform

(proportional representation)

Why vote?

Declining voter turnout signals to those in power that we dont care what politicians are doing and that allows them to make more decisions in their interest, and less in ours. Voting signals to politicians that the public is paying attention, and that leads to better decisions.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

It isnt because young people arent engaged. Youth are very engaged. Most environmental groups, charities, and arts organizations (just to name a few) are increasingly being driven by young people. The problem is that the electoral system in Canada doesnt reflect the representative and open structures young people today are drawn to and are working within. Take a look at everything from non-profits to social media and youll see structures that are open, representative, and dynamic. Then take a look at our electoral system and government its winner take all, very poor at reflecting our countrys political and societal realities, not open to the general public, and almost never changes to adapt to new realities.

What needs to happen to change that?

We need a national conversation on how to make our electoral systemmore open and dynamic. Politics needs to mean something more than four or five leaders attacking each other for three weeks every few years. Everyone is political, especially young people. Any time we talk about how awful or great something is were being political. Every time we make a donation, join a club, or send a news story out on Twitter, were being political. Unless all types of politics means something and can create real change,young people will continue to spend more of their time in structures that are just more relevant to them.

Shawnee Hummel, 27

Student

Political views: Very liberal

Top three election issues:

Energy and environment

Support and housing for low-income families

Preventing Harper from getting re-elected.

Why vote?

It is our democratic right and should be utilized to fully represent the values and opinions of the people that populate this country.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

This may sound harsh, but I think its because were a generation of spoiled, selfish and apathetic kids who dont know how to grow up. Also, somewhere along the line someone in our parents generation began telling people that our vote doesnt matter that whatever is going to happen will happen. Now we all just sit on our hands and allow other people to make decisions that will affect us, and will even affect our children.

What needs to happen to change that?

There needs to be open political discussion among youth, especially in regards to low voter turn out. Even if you dont agree with the politics involved just having issues being brought to light and the fact that people in our generation need to go to the polls in order to execute any influence on matters at hand.

Ajay Puri, 30

Grassroots organizer, health researcher

Political views: Progressive

Top three election issues:

Health care

Education and research

Environment

Why vote?

Even though Canada officially became a country in 1867, many of our people were not allowed to vote until much later and after a lot of struggle. Women won the right to vote in 1918, the Chinese and South Asians in 1947, the Japanese in 1948 and theFirst Nations the people whose land were on in 1960. With all these struggles, and the struggles people are having around the world right now (Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain) we must respect and exercise ourfreedom andright to vote.

Why is youth voter turnout so low?

When talking to my friends, the main message they say is that they are not happy with the choice of leaders we have and all the bickering that happens. They say the leaders lack charisma and passion and they dont resonate with [them].

What needs to happen to change that?

The federal politicians in our country have made politics boring. In our last federal election (2008), voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian election history, at 59 per cent. Youth voter turnout was even worse at 37 per cent. In the 60s it was as high as 70 per cent. Its up to us to make voting engaging and fun again.

THE HOW

Spend five minutes with Elections Canada (Elections.ca) for info on how to register, find your polling station and a list of candidates running in your riding for the May 2 election. Just plug your postal code into the little box on the homepage and away you go. Elections Canada also has a nifty list of FAQs that can help make the process smoother.

Moved recently? Not sure if youre registered? No problem. Register by calling Elections Canada (1-800-463-6868), or at your polling station and yes, you do have to go to your polling station by bringing government issued ID, like a drivers licence with your current address. If you dont have one of those, two pieces of ID, both with your name and one with your current address (think Care Card plus Hydro Bill) will do. Failing that, you can swear an oath at your polling station (fancy!) so long as you have someone else, like a friend or roommate who does have ID to vouch for you.

Working on election day? Thats OK. Most polls are open 7am to 7pm, but if you still cant find the time, your employer is required by law to give you time to vote. You can also vote in advance polling (April 22, 23 and 25) or by mail.

THE WHO

Get a basic grasp of the election issues at CBC.ca/Canadavotes. With the CBCs Vote Compass tool (CBC.ca/VoteCompass) you can fill out the short questionnaire and find out how political parties align with your views. Keep in mind this is a starting point to discover more about party platforms and your own election issues. If your answer is I dont know to every question, its on you to dig a little deeper. And CBCs Reality Check pits campaign promises against real life.

Get Your Vote On (GetYourVoteOn.ca) offers a youth-friendly overview of voting how-tos as well as links to political parties (all of them, even the Rhinoceros Party). Other informative youth-focused sites include: LeadNow.ca, StudentVote.ca, ApathyIsBoring.com and ?CheckYourHead.org.

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