University Centre played host to advanced polls this past week, in an effort to encourage students to cast early ballots for the impending civic election.
“We wanted to make sure that it was easier for eligible electors to access the voting process, so we went to [ . . . ] the university because of its location, and also to encourage students who typically may not be predisposed, to actually vote,” said city clerk Richard Kachur, explaining why advanced polling stations were setup at the University of Manitoba.
The U of M wasn’t the only venue where advanced polling stations made an appearance.
“We have many, many advanced polls. That’s probably the major difference between our city government and the provincial or federal government,” explained Kachur.
Advanced polls have been touring Winnipeg, with stations being set-up at the University of Winnipeg, Red River College, Polo Park and St. Vital Centre. City Hall also has had advanced poll set-up for the entire month of October.
Even with the voting process made more accessible, some students at the U of M who were not aware of the political platforms of candidates were against casting an ill informed ballot.
“I’ve never voted before, because I don’t know anything about the candidates [ . . .],” said Eric Fillion, a U of M student in the faculty of arts.
“If I don’t really know anything about the candidates, I don’t feel like I should be voting. Otherwise it would just be a throw in the dark.”
However, many of the students the Manitoban talked to did agree that voting is an important civic duty.
“I think it is important to vote, but only if you have made yourself aware of what each party is doing at the time,” stated Mark McCoy, a student in the faculty of science.
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is also attempting to pique the interest of young voters by running various community-specific campaigns aimed at raising awareness about issues in the civic election.
CFS-Manitoba chairperson Alanna Makinson explained that it is important for students to vote in the civic election because voting is the first step to becoming engaged in the democratic process.
“If students want to have the their voices heard and their ideas made a priority at city hall, as students, we need to take it upon ourselves to take that first step and vote on Oct. 27,” said Makinson.
CFS is also heading a pledge campaign, where they are collecting pledges from students promising to vote.
“Students are extremely busy [ . . . ] so the pledge allows students to make a commitment to themselves to vote this year in the municipal election, as well as to get a reminder to go out and vote on election day,” remarked Makinson, discussing the pledge campaign.
Jared Wesley, assistant professor of political studies at the U of M, believes accessibility isn’t the issue that attributes to the low voter turnout.
“If convenience was the solution, you should see voter turnout at an all time high,” said Wesley.
Wesley explained that there are other issues that underlie the challenge of getting students to the polls.
“It’s kind of akin to saying, ‘We’re going to open the barn door, and the horse is going to leave.’ If the horse doesn’t want to leave, it’s not going to leave. It’s something to do with the motivation behind why voters vote or don’t vote,” explained Wesley.
Wesley explained that youth think of voting in a very different way than their parents and grandparents did, as young Canadians have a different sense of civic obligation than generations before them.
“It’s not that they don’t see voting as a civic duty. Polls show that youth see it as an important duty and actually as an important part of democracy,” expanded Wesley.
Wesley went on to say that unlike previous generations, this generation of Canadian youth are democratically secure because they haven’t seen their democratic freedoms threatened by the First and Second World War or the Cold War.
Generations post-1982 and the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom have lived most of their lives with the knowledge that their rights and freedoms are fixed and protected.
“In that sense they can afford to take these democratic rights and freedoms for granted in a way that previous generations didn’t,” said Wesley.
“The question right now is have youth today moved past voting? Are they thinking about politics in an entirely different way? Is voting something they can afford to take for granted?” questioned Wesley.
While young voter turnout has traditionally been low relative to adults, today’s generation of youth are not getting engaged in the democratic process at the same age or to the same extent as earlier generations, Wesley pointed out.
“When our parents were youth, they would typically not vote until they were 22 or 24, when they started to have their family. [ . . . ] When you start a family, politics starts to matter because the world means something to you and future generations.”
Wesley felt that post-Charter generations aren’t engaged at all in the political process.
“It’s a sense of civic obligation or civic duty that differentiates youth today from what they were in the past,” explained Wesley.
“Civic obligation among youth is akin to the decline of household responsibilities among youth.
We no longer do dishes, because we have dishwashers. We no longer vote, because we don’t have too. Somebody else is going to do it.”