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#USaskVotes: An initiative to promote student voter engagement

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The upcoming federal election taking place on Oct. 19 is only weeks away and the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, along with numerous student groups and individuals, have taken initiative to encourage political participation among students by launching the #USaskVotes campaign.

Elections Canada reported that in the 2011 federal election, 75.1 per cent of individuals between the ages of 55–64 voted, while only 38.8 per cent of individuals between the ages of 18–24 cast their vote. This trend of low voter turnout has been historically persistent within the youth demographic, which includes a substantial portion of university students.

Multiple roadblocks have prevented students from voting in previous elections, such as unfamiliarity and inaccessibility with the voter registration and ballot-casting processes, as well as a lack of political interest or knowledge of party platforms.

David York, U of S sessional lecturer in the department of political studies, argues that the political disengagement of university students is problematic for the larger picture of what a healthy democratic society should ideally look like.

“In terms of elections and election cycles, the more engaged a group is, the more efficacy that system has — people feel like they can do something and in fact their vote matters — in the end, political power stems from the people,” York said.

Voter Turnout by Age
Statistics for 2011, as per statistics Canada.

USSU vice-president student affairs Kehan Fu states that the intention of this campaign is not only geared towards highlighting the importance of voting and politics, but to make this process fun and interactive through events and social media.

“Not only do we want to emphasize voting but we want to emphasize voting as something not designed to be old or out-dated,” Fu said.

A debate forum on Sept. 30 in Atrium D in the Health Sciences building included local party candidates from various ridings throughout Saskatoon debating topics concerned with student issues.

Events in conjunction with #USaskVotes include a Trivia Night on Oct. 8 and a Lip-Sync Battle on Oct. 19 featuring DJ Kidalgo. These events will both be taking place at Louis’ Pub and aim to increase anticipation of the election results in an exciting and engaging way for students.

In addition, the campaign will show individuals how to vote and register. Voter registration will take place in the Arts Tunnel from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, and How to Vote 101 will occur Oct. 13 to Oct. 16 in the Arts Tunnel as well.

In terms of long-term political engagement, USSU vice-president academic affairs Gabe Senecal suggests that not only will this participation extend to the upcoming federal election, but the momentum will carry over into the provincial and municipal elections taking place next year.

“The efforts of these committees and the general atmosphere on campus shaped by these committees really feeds into the future election cycles and brings a lot of benefit for the next elections coming up,” Senecal said.

For additional information regarding the polling, registration and voting processes, the USSU will be consistently updating their Facebook page as well as posting the #USaskVotes events taking place.

The VoteNote app for smartphones is also a useful tool for locating the nearest polling stations, providing information on candidates’ platforms and making sure individuals are registered and eligible to vote. These online measures aim to make voting convenient and accessible to university students.

The campaign is not only a great way to become involved and informed, but it is also an important reminder for students to use their voices within a democratic system.

“Inevitably, your generation is going to take over the reigns,” York said. “Students have a duty [and] obligation. This is a set of civil political rights that they have and they need to actively use them in order for them to be meaningful.”

Image: Jeremy Britz/Graphics Editor

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