Young voters missing in action

Shauna Elahe, 21, probably should have cast a ballot in the recent general elections.

She knew exactly what she wanted to see on the agendas of the MPP candidates in her riding of Pickering-Scarborough East and she looked for that one candidate who would talk about the issues that were important to her.

But like many other young people, she never made it out the polls on Oct. 14.

Many young Canadians are busied with other things than the
Oct. 14 general elections.

“I did not vote because my concerns were not the concerns of any of the parties,” Elahe says. “I just didn’t see the point.”

Less than 20 per cent of elible voters aged 18 – 24 voted.

One of Elahe’s concerns was funding for after-school programs. She leads a program of University of Toronto Scarborough student volunteers who help high school students with homework and guide them in preparing for university and college.

Elahe’s after-school program has not been left out.

Former Ontario Liberal candidate for Pickering-Scarborough East and University of Toronto Scarborough student, Mary-Ann Chambers, donated $10, 000 to the program this year. In Februrary of this year, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that funding for after-school programs will increase to $66 million from $20 million over the next four years.

Elahe, like many others, was not moved.

The elections saw the lowest voter turnout in its history with just 59 per cent of the voting population bothering to vote. Also low was the rate of participation amongst youth voters.

“Particularly with fall elections, there always seems to be exams at school which [young people] would rather study for than follow an election campaign,” says Ward 43 Councillor Paul Ainslie. “Then there are extra-curricular activities like sports or part-time jobs to get involved in. And there is always the boyfriend, girlfriend factor which generates enthusiasm that no candidate can match.”

Ainslie says all these reasons can take precedence over participation in an election, thus causing young voters to pay little or no attention to the political parties and their platforms. They then become uninformed voters and end up not voting at all because they do not know which way to turn.

“For many youths, not voting is a life-cycle matter in which they have become more interested at
this stage of life with careers, relationships and more personalized things than with a sense of the
broader community they could be involved in,” Ainslie adds.

The picture was not the same in the United States when presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain faced off in a bid for the White House. On Nov. 4, the democratic candidate, Obama, made history when he became the first African-American president-elect.

History was also made by 23 million young voters, aged 18–29, who voted for a new president, raising the youth turnout rate to at least 52 per cent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Approximately 3.4 million more young voters voted than in 2004.

“The proposition that ‘Young People Don’t Vote’ has finally been proven wrong,” Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, was quoted as saying during a general election campaign in Washington D.C. “We have propelled candidates to victory in both parties and reinvigorated our democracy with millions of new young voters this primary season.

Rock the Vote is an organization in the United States that uses music, popular culture and new technologies to persuade young people to register and vote.

“Most of the young people came out to vote for Obama,” says political scientist Jodi Gentles . “He was young and relatable to them and that is exactly what young folks need to be interested in politics.”

Christopher Brown, 19, lives in Missouri. He was excited to cast a ballot for the first time since being eligible to vote.

“I proudly voted for Senator Barack Obama,” Brown says. “I just had the feeling that he was the right one. McCain sort of turned me off.”

Ainslie thinks that initiatives like those employed by Rock the Vote would help to intrigue Canadian young voters who are apathetic towards politics.

“To realistically engage the youth, new avenues of engagement need to be created,” Ainslie says. “One of these is the internet as it seems to be an extension of their physical being. Most youths get their political information from the internet. I think internet-voting has the potential to open the floodgates to get them more involved in our political system.”