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UBC students Anna Howard, left, and Arianna Murphy-Steed sit on campus on Tuesday. Students can vote in the British Columbia ’s May 9 election if they’ve lived in the province for at least six months. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)
UBC students Anna Howard, left, and Arianna Murphy-Steed sit on campus on Tuesday. Students can vote in the British Columbia ’s May 9 election if they’ve lived in the province for at least six months. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. student groups seek to raise turnout for provincial election Add to ...

Campus groups are pushing their peers to make it to the polls for British Columbia’s May 9 election, warning that typically low turnout among young voters could make it easier for politicians to ignore them and the issues affecting their lives.

Voters younger than 35 tend to have the lowest turnout in Canadian elections and B.C.’s last election was no exception. Fewer than half of registered voters aged 18 to 24 participated in 2013, while fewer than 40 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 voted. And those numbers were worse than the two previous elections.

To address these low numbers, the Alliance of BC Students has launched a campaign to increase student voter turnout by providing on-campus information for how and when students can vote. In turn, the group hopes increasing youth turnout will pressure politicians to pay more attention to young voters.

“Political parties are probably failing the most in terms of reaching out to young people,” said Alex McGowan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University student and chair of the alliance. “When it comes down to it, I think [they] are just not putting in the real time and effort that they put into older generations.”

And the fewer young people vote, the less incentive political parties have to invest the time and resources into reaching them.

“It is a tricky chicken-egg situation where young people need to be inspired to turn out,” said David Moscrop, a political science researcher at UBC. “That requires them being engaged, but they’re not being engaged because there’s no real benefit to the parties to engage them.”

Mr. Moscrop added that many of the issues on which parties campaign might not be of interest to young voters, which itself could be an election strategy.

“Parties, rationally, put all their attention to groups that are more likely to vote,” he said. “So they target them and they know to their build their platforms carefully and accordingly.”

Arianna Murphy-Steed, whose group Young Climate Voters BC encourages students to vote with environmental issues in mind, said young people have barriers beyond a simple lack of interest.

“We’ve found that a lot of people don’t know that they are eligible to vote,” said Ms. Murphy-Steed, who is a student at the University of British Columbia. The group’s campaign is called Together for Tomorrow.

Ms. Murphy-Steed said that with university classes wrapping up before the May election, it could be difficult to provide students with the information they need to vote before they leave campus.

She also said many students don’t realize they are eligible to vote if they have lived in B.C. for six months.

“Many students may not have a fixed address,” she said. “I don’t know that there has been enough effort to ensure that young people are aware of when and how to vote. Part of the reason we are running this campaign is to help fill in those gaps.”

Elections BC said not having a fixed address also means young voters may not receive information from the agency.

“Youth tend to be more mobile. They’re moving more. They may not be on the voter’s list at their current address,” said Andrew Watson, communications manager for Elections BC. “In general, they’re harder to reach through the communications that we conduct to inform people how voting works.”

Noor Youssef, a political sciences student at UBC, moved to B.C. from Syria five years ago. Even with a Canadian passport and five years of residency in the province, she did not realize she could vote in the upcoming election.

“There isn’t much awareness on campus,” she said. “I just don’t have enough information on who’s running.”

Ms. Youssef acknowledged students such as her need to take initiative to understand the issues.

“It’s also my fault because I haven’t taken it upon myself to get informed,” she said. “I don’t know that much, even though I should. I’ve been living here for a while.”

For Simka Marshall, chair of the British Columbia Federation of Students, a province-wide organization that launched its Students Are Voting campaign last month to collect voting pledges, the perception of young voters needs to change.

“One thing I think is really powerful is to stop promoting the myth that young people are apathetic,” she said.

Ms. Marshall said youth voter turnout discussions should help youth feel empowered to participate politically.

“Being a young person myself, there’s nothing less inspiring than having people tell me that I don’t vote,” she said. “Being shamed into voting isn’t something that is going to mobilize me to get to the polling station on voting day.”

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