CAUS is trying to increase student participation at the polls.
Adrienne Shumlich/the Gauntlet

Getting students to the polls

A student advocacy group aims to make voting easier in Alberta

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Low voter turnout among Canadian youth has been a problem in recent elections. The Council of Alberta University Students is working to change this by looking for ways to encourage students to vote.

CAUS, a student advocacy group that lobbies the government, has made getting more students to vote one of its main priorities this year.

In the last federal election, 39 per cent of Canadians aged 
18–24 cast a ballot, the lowest turnout of any age group.

According to CAUS, Canadians under 30 years of age are consistently under-represented at polling stations as well as in legislatures and city halls across the country. 

In 2011, Elections Canada commissioned a study on the political involvement of Canadians aged 18–34. Over 2,500 young adults responded to the nationwide survey, which concluded that access barriers and motivational issues were keeping young people out of polling stations.

“Most participants cited access issues: they were too busy, couldn’t get to the polls or didn’t know where the polls were. But scratching below the surface, the study found that, in most cases, motivational issues were more important than access barriers,” according to the Elections Canada website.

The survey also showed that a lack of political knowledge played a key role in keeping students away from the polls, something that was unsurprising to second-year 
University of Calgary psychology student Katie McCurrie.

“Youth don’t always have education behind them — they don’t feel confident in voting. When they don’t understand the system, they just don’t vote,” said McCurrie.

Chair of CAUS and the U of C’s Students’ Union vice-president external Raphael Jacob stressed the importance of voting.

“If you don’t participate in a democracy, politicians have no reason to court your vote. If you don’t vote, politicians have no reason to cater their platform to you as a bloc. The biggest thing is to show politicians that students care about politics and that students care about their post-secondary education and politicians should as well,” said Jacob.

The U of C held an initiative to encourage students to vote in the federal election last April called “Get Out The Vote.”

“We got students during orientation week to give us some of their phone numbers and emails and then the day before the election we phoned, texted and emailed them and reminded them to vote,” said Jacob.

CAUS has continued with its efforts to increase turnout. The avenue through which they have encouraged young voters, however, has changed since “Get Out the Vote” began. They have been lobbying the government to make it easier for students to cast a ballot and make changes to what CAUS calls Alberta’s “archaic” voting system. CAUS has identified problems for students living in a temporary residence in Alberta schools, 
according to Jacob.

“If a student goes to vote in their riding, they need to sign a statutory declaration swearing that they are temporarily living in that riding. They also need a piece of government mail. The issue is that even when students do both these things, we’ve had examples of students getting turned away from the polling station,” said 
Jacob. “It’s not just complicated for students to have to do, but even complicated for the polling staff to have to figure out the rules.”

Alberta is the only province that has these rules, a fact that Jacob said should work in CAUS’s favour to lobby the government. 

This year, CAUS representatives have met with the Minister of Justice as well as the chief electoral officer of the province.

“It is looking pretty positive based on the meetings we’ve had with them,” said Jacob. “They generally seem sympathetic to what we are saying and a lot of it makes sense.”

As a result of the action taken by CAUS, voting may be a lot easier for students in Alberta in the next election.