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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Under 18s to vote in provincial election

by Dawn Wilson

When we open our newspapers on May 18, we will read two sets of election results: the official ones, and those from the student vote, which will be held in schools across B.C. the day before the provincial election.

This will be the second time a student vote has been held in B.C. The first occurred last June, during the Federal election, but given the timing of that election (June 28), most secondary students were gone, and schools were winding down for the summer break. With the legislated provincial election date, Student Vote BC has spent the last six months organizing this event with the goal of engaging 100,000 students from across the province.

Many concerns have been raised recently about the growing trend of non-voting over the past five elections. From a healthy 70.34% turnout in the 1983 general election to a worrying 55.44% in 2001, fewer people seem interested in exercising their democratic rights. The trend is particularly noticeable among young people; in May 2001, only 27% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. Young people are losing the opportunity to have a voice in issues that affect them directly, now and in the future—issues in which their generation has a vested interest: tuition fees, transit costs, youth employment opportunities, the minimum wage, and environmental protection to name just a few.

The goal of the student vote program is to inspire a habit of active citizenship among Canadian students. After the Federal student vote last June, a post-election analysis assessed the effectiveness of the program and examined participant outcomes. Pre- and post-election student survey results showed significant increases in students’ future intentions to vote, their being informed about current issues, government and politics, and their interest in reading the newspaper. Students’ knowledge of political parties also increased. Student vote participation had a positive influence on attitudes concerning electoral participation.

In conjunction with Alberta’s provincial election last November, another student vote was held. Lacombe Composite High School (LCHS) in Lacombe was one of 500 schools in the province that participated. Teacher Corvin Uhrbach has led two successful student votes in the school, and reports, "We have found it to be a very positive experience in our school." His goal was to make students aware of the issues, and to create a mindset that students should vote when they reach the legal voting age of 18. He also hoped that the student election would create a dialogue between kids and parents, perhaps even motivating older, disillusioned parents to get out and vote.

At LCHS, the Social Studies Department decided how to run the election so that it would not take an overwhelming amount of time. The election was held during the first period of the day, and all classes in the school were invited to participate. The requirement for participation was to discuss the election in class and make 15 minutes available for voting on Election Day. Only 5 classes of 27 opted out. The actual voting process was run entirely by the students, with Grade 10 and 12 Social Studies classes paired. Teams of three or four students took ballot boxes and polling booths to each class. One person explained the process, one handed out ballots as students individually went to the polling booth, and one signed and put the ballot into the box. An advanced poll was held for classes that had opted out, and students who were on spares were allowed to vote in the library on Election Day. After all the ballot boxes were collected, ballots were counted using the tally sheets from Student Vote 2004. Boxes were then exchanged, and a second count was done. With the exception of a few adults present as observers during counting, the entire process was student driven.

The school where I teach, Reynolds Secondary School, in Victoria, has registered to hold a student vote for the upcoming election. The school will receive instructional resources and posters, electoral district maps, authentic ballot boxes and voting screens, riding-specific ballots, and referendum ballots. We will host an All-Candidates Forum and invite other guest speakers to social studies classes to generate interest, debate, and discussion. On Student Election Day, students will take on the roles of voting clerks, voting officers, and returning officer. The student vote team has already set up an effective communication network with the school, and has proven to be very helpful in answering questions and anticipating our needs. We are looking forward to hosting a stimulating learning experience and to helping our students become better citizens in the process.

For more information on how to organize a student vote in your school, go to www.studentvote.ca, e-mail info@studentvote.ca, or call 1-866-488-8775.

Dawn Wilson teaches at Reynolds Secondary School, Victoria.

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