It is no secret to anyone that voter turnout in Canada has been on a downward trend. According to Elections Canada, the turnout for the last federal election in 2011 was 61.4% – the third lowest in our country’s history. The turnout among students and younger people in particular is lower than any other age group (this is not to say that other factors such as economic and social status are not equally responsible). National estimates cite a shocking 38.8% for voters between the ages of 18-24. That number sucks. According to a poll conducted by Statistics Canada, the most common reason given for the people in this age group was that they were not interested in voting. Others stated that they were too busy with school or their work, and others were away or traveling. Interestingly enough, for senior citizens, the most common reason for not voting was due to illness or disability. And yet just over 75% of people in the age group 65-74 voted. Is it safe to assume that seniors respect democracy more than students do?
I believe there is another reason that plays a big role. This election will be the first time that many university students are eligible to vote federally. It can be an intimidating process. Several questions will arise, doubts will start to form. When voting day rolls around, the effort to go to a polling station won’t be made. After that, continued apathy towards voting seems almost permanent. How can this be avoided? Firstly, if you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone. Secondly, there is an abundance of available resources online and on-campus that help students with their first vote. One such resource is the Get Out the Vote! Campaign (if you would like to learn more about them, I highly encourage you to check out their website). The campaign is headed by Fallis Thompson, VP Academic for the Acadia Students’ Union. You can pledge to vote from their website.
Of course, having the right to vote also means having the right not to vote. It is not a responsibility or a civic duty. It is a privilege. If you don’t like the choices, then why bother choosing? Feel free to spoil your ballot. And I don’t agree with the argument that says that “those who didn’t vote don’t have the right to complain.” I retain my right to complain about everything. That being said, I strongly believe that students should vote. I believe that students should exercise their civic right and fulfill their role in democracy.
Why? I suppose the answer is a bit of a cliché. Whether it comes down to something more immediate like education or something more long-term like fossil fuel consumption, there is no doubt that the decisions made today will affect our futures tomorrow. And who is it that inherits that future? We do! Moreover, students have a huge capacity to manipulate the social agenda to their will. Consider the student movement in Quebec in 2012. Premier Jean Charest proposed a tuition raise of almost 75%. As a result, a quarter million people took to the streets in protest. While this is definitely an extreme case, I also believe it demonstrates just how underestimated the student population is when it comes to its ability to partake in civic engagement. “I feel like some students don’t realize the large impact they can have in this election,” Thompson says. “Actions speak louder than words and voting is the perfect example of that.”
There are a hundred reasons you can come up with not to vote, whether it be apathy or ignorance. But when it comes down to it, what will really be stopping you from casting a ballot? I hope you will think about it and ask yourself if the obstacle is something you can overcome. Don’t let first time intimidation stop you. Make yourself heard. Shape your future the way you want it to be shaped. Vote in the federal election on October 19th, 2015.
Pledge to Vote: http://asu.getoutthevote.ca/
Get Out The Vote FAQ: http://www.getoutthevote.ca/voting_faq
Voter Turnout At Federal Elections and Referendums: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?dir=turn&document=index&lang=e§ion=ele#ftn2
Factors associated with voting: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012001/article/11629-eng.htm
Reasons for not voting in the May 2, 2011 federal election: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/110705/dq110705a-eng.htm
Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2011 Federal Election: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/41ge&document=report41&lang=e#p41