Public participation in Canada, such as voting in elections, has plummeted in recent years and young people are especially likely to be disengaged. Current voter turnout speaks toward the general sense of indifference among today’s youth.
The last five federal elections have had the lowest voter turnouts since Confederation. Yes, the voters of today are embarrassingly the most apathetic in 150 years of Canadian history.
Voter turnout has always varied election to election but in recent decades has fallen significantly. Since the year 2000, electoral voter turnout has been more than 15 per cent lower than it was in the 1950s and 60s. The 2011 election saw a slight increase from the 2008 turnout, but still remained at a dismal 61 per cent.
For federal elections, 61 per cent is low. But at other levels of government far lower turnouts have been seen.
In the 2012 Saskatoon Municipal Election, only 36 per cent of registered voters chose to cast their vote.
Aside from indicating apathy, low electoral turnout also allows special interest groups or certain demographics to have their views over-represented in the political system. An obvious example is income, where wealthy households are far more likely to vote.
The Willows, one of Saskatoon’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, had the city’s highest electoral turnout at 67 per cent in the 2012 Saskatoon city election. The lowest turnout was nine per cent at the Pleasant Hill polling station, where the average household income is less than a fifth of the average household income from the Willows according to statistics from the City of Saskatoon. The obvious differences in the electoral power of these two neighbourhoods is bad news for a democracy meant to give all citizens an equal say.
Income is only one of many factors that correlate with uneven participation in elections. The 2011 federal election saw people under 24 years of age vote at a rate 20 per cent less than the national average. Youth participation in elections, like turnout rates proportional to income levels, is a problem that needs to be solved for elections to be considered truly representational of a society’s desires.
It should be important to a community for all members to have equal say in chosen representatives. Obviously if certain demographics are lagging behind, the best way to increase turnout would be to encourage them to vote. Unfortunately, a recent piece of federal legislation claiming to address low voter turnout does exactly the opposite.
The Fair Elections Act, a recently proposed piece of federal legislation restructuring how elections work and how Elections Canada runs, has provided much material for political columnists across the country. One of the many changes it includes would make it a great deal more difficult for Elections Canada to promote voting to demographics that have low electoral participation, including students and young people.
The Fair Elections Act controversially proposes that voters cannot vouch for each other to prove that they live in an electoral district, making it even more difficult for students to vote in elections than it already is.
At a time when civic engagement is at an all time low, it is a rather backwards piece of legislation that would make it harder to vote instead of easier.
When young people don’t even bother to vote in elections, political parties and candidates have little incentive to campaign to them or create policies benefitting the young, further discouraging youth from participating in our political system in a vicious cycle.
The federal and provincial elections in 2015 will give many University of Saskatchewan students the opportunity to vote for the first time, either because they didn’t vote in 2011 or because they were too young to cast a ballot. Young people should ensure their voices are being heard — both to influence the elections and to tell politicians that the youth should not be neglected in politics.
Now I realize that my vote has — from a statistical standpoint — little effect on the turnout or the result. But I still vote in elections because I believe it’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Voting isn’t usually an arduous process, no matter what the level, so I see no reason not to participate.
Of course there are many ways to participate in your community aside from voting. Group organizations, volunteer groups and even campus clubs all positively benefit a community in one way or another. Aside from the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from volunteering or the fun you may have at a student organization’s beer night, getting involved can pay dividends far into your future.
Students at the U of S have the ability to cast their ballot and have their voice heard this very month. The U of S Students’ Union election for Executives, Members of Student Council, and for University Senate runs from 9 a.m. on Mar. 26 to 4 p.m. Mar. 27. Voting is done online through PAWS and takes less than 30 seconds, so there is no excuse to not vote.
The 2013 USSU election saw only 23 per cent of undergraduates vote. Thankfully voter turnout is on the rise in USSU elections, from 16 per cent in 2012 and eight per cent in 2011. It should not be nearly that low considering the effort it takes to cast a ballot.
So give a fuck about your country, your community and students union: vote.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor