New campaign seeks to change attitudes toward voting

Kamloops voter turnout goal set at 50 per cent, young people and students targeted

In 2008, roughly 31 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18-24 voted in municipal elections in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. In Kamloops specifically, 29 per cent of citizens voted in the 2011. Young people have been deemed notoriously disinterested in voting, but the reasons why are not exactly clear.

Ramesh Ranjan, a contributor to the Huffington Post suggested that “non-voting activism,” as op­posed to democratic action, may be the channel that young people are more interested in taking. He considered awareness movements that have gone viral through so­cial media, like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or Mo-vember, as examples that young people actively participate in. He has a point – how many of us spent the time filling up buckets of ice and water, or decided to let our beards grow a little longer than usual in hopes of making a change in our world? Perhaps more than 31 per cent.

This is a challenge that TRU graduate and Vote 50 coordinator Will George is ready to take on through the Vote 50 Campaign. With the vision of incorporating “information, access and engage­ment,” into this year’s election on Nov. 15, 2014, the eighteen-mem­ber committee is hoping to in­crease Kamloops voter turnout to 50 per cent. According to the Vote 50 Campaign website, they “plan to provide easy-to-find in­formation, create fun events to increase participation, and launch initiatives to make the 2014 vote the most accessible election Kam­loops has ever seen.”

When it comes to the low voter turnout in young people, George believes that 50 per cent is pos­sible with the right kind of en­couragement. As a non-partisan group, the committee is primarily focusing on accessible informa­tion for all candidates and their platforms. As Ranjan pointed out, although young people seem to be more interested in activism and are familiar with voicing their frustrations in the system through awareness and campaigns, there is a blatant disconnect with going to a polling location and marking an “x” beside a candidate.

The Vote 50 Campaign plans on encouraging young people to participate through mixers and forums, whether on the TRU campus, at the Seniors Center for Information or hotels located throughout Kamloops.

“Make events that people want to go to because they’re fun and then they realize ‘Oh, the people that want to help voter turnout are organizing this event and I should be engaged,’” George said.

A mixer will be held on the TRU campus where students will get to hear from all the candidates on the topics they are interested in hearing about. Themes will be determined by suggestions from students and then divided into rooms open to the public.

“Look out for ballots where students can suggest the themes for the room, such as career op­tions or environmental sustain­ability,” George said.

TRU professor Derek Cook suggested that “a major part of the problem [with low voter turn­out] is the simple lack of under­standing of the Canadian political system,” and public policy issues.

George believes if Vote 50 gives accessibility to this information in a basic and understandable way, the lack of participation will change.

Vote 50 is also grooming youth to be engaged in Canadian poli­tics through the Boys and Girls club. Two events, “Voting 101” and the “Youth Civic Forum,” will bring candidates to discuss public policies that are familiar and im­portant to youth.

When George was asked what he would say to a student who doesn’t think municipal politics affects them, he said:

“In 2011, the voter turnout in Kamloops was 29 per cent. That was 29 per cent of the eligible voters in Kamloops deciding the direction of Kamloops for the next three years. Now it’s changed and council terms are four years … Are you a renter? Look at this situation: The city decides to in­crease property taxes by 50 per cent. So the owner of the house needs to raise his rent to meet the property taxes. Who’s paying that rent? You, the student.”

For George, it’s creating rel­ative connections to students in order to share the importance of utilising our right to vote. Point­ing to the election countdown on the Vote 50 website, he said that time is of the essence in convinc­ing students to speak out.

“When you have such a small percentage of people voting, the city can go either way. It’s usually a particular demographic that is voting,” he said.

Council recently announced that public transit will be free on election day, giving even more access to the polling stations throughout Kamloops.

Not sure if you can vote? Here are the basic requirements for voter eligibility in this year’s mu­nicipal election: You must be over the age of eighteen on the day of election, you must be a Canadi­an citizen, you must have lived in B.C. for 6 months prior to elec­tion day and you must have lived in Kamloops for the last 30 days. You should also make sure to have a piece of identification when you go to the polls.

To find the closest polling loca­tion to you, visit the City of Kam­loops website.

Vote 50 has issued a challenge to Kelowna and Prince George: