The upcoming elections on Oct. 16 will mark the first time that the Student Vote program has operated at the municipal level in Alberta.
Students throughout Alberta are getting ready to vote in municipal elections for the first time.
Nearly 800 schools representing 60,000 students in 145 municipalities have registered to participate in the Student Vote program for the upcoming civic elections on Oct. 16.
“If we want our kids to grow into citizens and understand what it takes to be a citizen, they have to practise first, and that’s what the Student Vote program is trying to achieve,” explained Taylor Gunn, president of CIVIX, the non-profit organization behind Student Vote.
The program enables students to vote in parallel elections held alongside actual elections. In the weeks leading up to the vote, students learn about government and democracy, research the candidates and discuss campaign issues in school and at home. Students then take on the roles of election officials and co-ordinate a parallel vote, whose results are tabulated and released publicly after official polls close.
Participating schools receive free learning materials and election supplies such as activity guides, posters, an election manual, ballots and ballot boxes.
The program is popular with teachers because it enables students to get a direct experience of the democratic process, Gunn said. Many students take their enthusiasm home and end up informing their parents about issues and motivating them to vote themselves.
“Many teachers tell us they see their students becoming empowered by taking part in something that’s real life,” Gunn said.
Since its inception in 2003, CIVIX has co-ordinated 36 Student Vote elections across Canada, but just six or seven of these have been at the municipal level. These are challenging to fund and to co-ordinate because they are each run by a municipality, but they’re also very rewarding because students can readily connect with local issues, Gunn said.
“When you get to the municipal level, there’s a lot of local concerns that can make a great deal of sense to students,” he said.
Social studies teacher Jennifer Keay of Hilltop High School in Whitecourt has participated in Student Vote since 2004, when it held its first parallel federal election.
“I was flabbergasted at the prevalence of apathy, lack of understanding and disdain for elected officials,” she stated via email. “The Student Vote program allowed me (as a new teacher) to bring democracy to life. Meaningful conversations were started in my classroom that my students brought home to their families. That year, my community had a very high voter turnout, which many people attributed to the Student Vote program.”
She said she’s witnessed students become stronger and more aware through the program, and become active voters when they reach voting age.
“I have seen my students become leaders in their communities, willing to participate and try to make a difference because they understood their role as a citizen in a democratic nation.”
The deadline to sign up for Student Votes is Sept. 29. Information is available at studentvote.ca. ❚
The Alberta Teachers' Association is among the partners that have provided a total of $200,000 to enable the Student Vote program to proceed alongside Alberta's municipal elections in October. Other partners include Alberta Education, the Edmonton Community Foundation, Elections Alberta, the Galvin Family Trust and the Government of Canada.