Viewpoints

April 21, 2015
Taylor Gunn, Student Vote

Students can and should be part of electoral process

Student Vote program is available for your school

Are you getting your students involved in the election? You must. Our democracy depends on it.

No matter what party you support, or who you choose to vote for in this election, there is no denying that elections matter. Whether you despise your experiences with government, or politicians make your blood boil, there is no escaping the fact that government and public policy touch every part of your life.

The simplest act of our citizenship is voting on election day.

This basic action is also one of the most effective uses of our citizenship. We make a choice, with expectations, and that choice and those expectations serve to guide our government for a set of years until we act on our judgments again in the next election.

Even though it is the most essential part of a democracy, fewer and fewer of us are voting. This is a problem as governments then steer their focus and priorities toward only those who vote. Sadly, for the next generation – our students – as they graduate high school, they are not graduating as voters. They’re not playing the game or even watching from the sidelines; they are miles away. More than any other age group, it is young people who are not casting ballots.

 

Voter turnout — the percentage of eligible citizens who vote in elections — is dropping around the world, but nowhere has it gotten lower than in Alberta. We have fallen below the 50 per cent mark several times, and if you listen to journalists and experts now, they predict it may be lower than ever this election — potentially as low as 30 per cent.

Does it matter if only three out of 10 people vote in this election? Who does government serve if so few decide who governs?

There is a strong and silent yet incredibly effective school program called Student Vote that is challenging low voter turnout and a deflated democracy head on.

Student Vote is a free program offered to schools that enables kids under the voting age to participate in the election, eventually casting a ballot on the official election candidates. The substance of the program is what schools and students cover before the vote: in-class learning, “democracy at the dinner table” engagement at home, media consumption, meeting the election candidates, critical thinking on election issues and platforms, and more.

The program culminates on Student Vote Day, when students cast an “official” ballot on the local candidates running in their electoral division. Student Vote results are released through media on election night and published in newspapers following election day.

Would you believe that in the Alberta provincial election three years ago — the great Redford versus Smith cage match — the only group of citizens in Alberta who accurately predicted the winners on election night were Student Vote participants? In 2012, more than 85,000 Alberta students, representing more than 700 schools, took part in Student Vote.

Student Vote is back this election and already nearly 700 schools have registered to participate.

Teachers cherish the free materials that are provided to schools, including activity resources, posters, electoral division maps, ballot boxes, voting screens and riding-specific ballots.

Student Vote does more than engage students — it is known to drive parents to the polls too. An independent evaluation of the Student Vote program commissioned by Elections Canada confirmed that parents attributed their own participation in the election to their kids and what they were learning about in school.

It might have seemed like the election no one wanted just a few weeks ago, but the atmosphere is changing and Alberta might be close to a political shakeup that no one could have predicted.

Your kids should be a part of this, and they can be through Student Vote. ❚

Taylor Gunn is the president and CEO of CIVIX, a non-profit organization that operates the Student Vote program as part of its aim to build the capacity and commitment of young Canadians to participate in their democracy.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is a proud supporter of Student Vote and is sponsoring the Alberta election program along with the Government of Alberta and Elections Alberta. Teachers can register their school by visiting www.studentvote.ca/ab2015 or calling
1-866-488-8775.