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March 10 is the last day to vote. Voting polls are located at various locations around the university.
Gauntlet file photo/Source: U of C Students' Union

Elections Canada hopes to increase youth vote

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Voter turnout in Students' Union elections at the University of Calgary has been low, historically. Last year, only 16 per cent of undergraduate students voted. With this year's SU election coming to a close on the evening of Mar. 10, only time will tell if voter participation at the U of C increases.

U of C SU president Lauren Webber said approximately 2,500 to 3,500 students vote in the SU elections each year.

"I would say voter turnout is pretty typical at U of C comparative nation wide," said Webber. "Of course we would like to see it much more than that, but that just seems to be the going rate."

Youth voter turnout is low across the nation. Elections Canada is conducting a nation-wide survey that will "identify specific barriers that youth could encounter that limit their electoral participation."

The survey will focus on five groups of youth that are underrepresented in the electoral polls-- aboriginal, ethno-cultural, disabled, unemployed and youth residing in rural areas.

"The purpose of the survey is to provide research findings that will allow Elections Canada to better target and tailor its outreach and educational initiatives to youth," said Elections Canada media relations officer Maureen Keenan. "And to determine what values, attitudes and behaviours are linked to voting and not voting among youth."

Not much is known about why youth choose to vote or not to vote, said Keenan.

According to a study published by Elections Canada in 2009, youth were more likely to vote if they lived at home.

It was previously thought that as youth aged they were more likely to vote. Recent studies indicated this is not the case.

Reasons listed by Elections Canada for a decline in youth voter turnout are lack of political knowledge among young people and increased political apathy.

Webber said low voter turnout at the U of C and low voter turnout at the federal level are related.

"We are quite far away from Ottawa, you are so far away you would never get the chance to meet someone running for office it seems," said Webber. "So maybe that is the similar reason affecting U of C and affecting the federal elections."

Webber thinks it is incredibly important for students to vote, even for the SU election.

"You want the right person, the right executive, the right elected official being in office," said Webber. "You need good leadership and that is why I think everyone would really want to have a say who gets elected in to office."

Third-year kinesiology student Curtis Turner agreed.

"I will be voting because these are the people who will be representing me for my last year in school," said Turner.

But with more than 80 per cent of students not voting in past SU elections, Turner's sentiments are not the majority.

"I have no reason to care," said bachelor of education student Mike Whittington. "That is really what it comes down to, apathy."

Whittington feels there is a disconnect between the way candidates portray themselves and what the SU actually does.

"Behind closed doors it is serious business, but in the public it is just this goofy nonsense," said Whittington.

Whittington thinks the SU needs to take steps to engage students.

"The SU should make steps towards opening the process to the people," he said. "There is a culture of apathy about it so that is harder to defeat, but I would say open policies to try to show what is actually happening instead of just letting it happen."

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