Youth voter turnout? First, get out of their way

The Fair Elections Act has had its first test in court and remains intact. Just how fair it is, however, is still up for debate among stu­dent and democracy groups.

In a July 17 ruling, an Ontario Superior Court judge rejected a bid for an injunction against a part of the Fair Elections Act for the upcoming federal election. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) along with the Council of Canadians brought a case that sought to get rid of the voter iden­tification provisions of the Act. They argued that it would have deleterious effects on youth voter turnout, especially students.

Their claims of voter suppres­sion weren’t entirely dismissed by the Ontario judge, however, who noted in his ruling that he wasn’t making any kind of statement on whether or not the Act violated the Charter.

It wasn’t until the Conservatives Party of Canada’s first term in of­fice that things changed. Before then, all you needed was to provide your name and address to vote in a federal election, so long as you were on the voters list. Since then, Elections Canada requires either one piece of government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, or two pieces of ID with your name and name and address.

On a list of recommended pieces of identification, Elections Cana­da lists student ID, debit card and credit card (and many others) as acceptable for pieces with your name. For pieces of ID with name and address, vehicle ownership, credit card statement, utility bill (and again, many others) are list­ed as acceptable. Surely, most stu­dents looking to vote would have these, right? You’d think so, but that’s not really why CFS took on the Fair Elections Act.

CFS took on this fight to face down something that might pos­sibly further deter young people from voting. In every federal elec­tion since 2004, statistically speak­ing the younger you are, the less likely you have been to vote. The 18-to-24 cohort has consistently been the least likely to show up to vote, with only about 38 per cent showing up at the polls in 2011.

It only makes sense for CFS to make this an issue, then. While it’s easy to shrug off these voter ID requirements as reasonable, stu­dent-aged people don’t need any more of a reason not to vote – put­ting any barrier in their way, even a minor bureaucratic one like this, will have a suppressive effect.

Really, this is a desperate mea­sure to bring youth back to the polling stations. If all students have to do is overcome a measure of petty bureaucracy to make their voices heard, and they still don’t, we’ve encountered never-be­fore-seen levels of apathy.

The real problem might be that our democracy is built on a stale platform, and that youth aren’t engaged with it because it feels as outmoded as conventional taxi services and hotels. So how about that? Where’s the Uber- or Airb­nb-style cure for conventional de­mocracy? Which federal election will have its first app?