Feature

Student Vote 04

Taylor Gunn

Two years ago, I became aware of an organization in the US named "Kids Voting USA." The operation aimed to build a habit of electoral participation among youth under the voting age in preparation for the time when they can vote. I was startled by the results. In some areas, student participation drove adult voting rates upwards of seven percent. Schools partnered with community newspapers, teachers invited community leaders into the classroom, and students became engaged.

I wanted to bring a similar experience to Canada. Before long, Student Vote 2003 gave Ontario's high school students an opportunity to 'practice' their citizenship through an empowering educational experiment and involvement in the Ontario provincial election.

What started as an impossible goal quickly became a resounding success. On October 2, Ontario's election day, approximately 335,000 students under the voting age cast their ballots on candidates in their schools' ridings. They challenged candidates, stunned media and inspired their parents to vote; the future of Canadian democracy was reborn.

Since October 3, our small volunteer team has dedicated itself to offering this initiative to students in every electoral district in Canada through involvement with the upcoming federal election. We are proud to be working with ETFO to develop an elementary curriculum to expand the concept to students from grades 5 through 8.

Teachers who register with Student Vote 2004 do so on behalf of their whole school. As a Student Vote 2004 Team Leader, the registered teacher and his or her students become a source of inspiration in the school.

Upon registration, schools receive a resource package that includes posters and activity guides. Once the election is called, a second mailing will include ballot boxes, ballots, and an operations manual similar to that given to official poll clerks. Election-related activities might include school visits by local candidates or guest speakers. Many regional dailies have offered free newspapers for the election campaign period to schools registered with Student Vote 2004.

The concept of an in-class voting exercise to engage students is an old idea. However, by taking that idea and linking your students to students across the country in a simultaneous student election day, held at the same time as the federal election, the magic of our democracy can be highlighted: millions of single votes uniting behind the ideals of participation, citizenship and collective responsibility.

Student Vote 2004 was created to renew the public spirit of Canadian democracy. We are confident that our students can offer the fresh outlook, appreciation and respect toward our system that is essential to realizing its potential. .Empower your students by registering your school today.

Call 416-361-9596 or 1-866-488- 8775 to register your school. Visit our web site at www.studentvote2004.ca. ETFO's supporting curriculum can be downloaded from www.etfo.ca.

Taylor Gunn, Chief Election Officer for Student Vote 2004, was inspired to create the student vote initiative while taking his daughter to visit Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer. Lindsay Mazzucco's involvement with Student Vote 2004 stems from her interest in empowering students. Both Taylor and Lindsay have put in thousands of hours of volunteer time and dipped into their own pockets to realize their dream of renewing Canadian democracy.