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Student Vote: Making Democracy a Habit

Mandi Hardy

June 2, 1997, was a memorable day for me. It was the date of Canada’s 36th general federal election and it was the first time I had ever voted. I haven’t missed an election since, although my enthusiasm is not reflective of most voters. In the last provincial election, Ontario hit a record low for voter  turnout, with only 49.2 percent of voters visiting the polls. Unlike my 18-year-old self, youth are even less likely to exercise  their democratic right than older voters. In the last federal election,  Elections  Canada  estimates  that only 38.8 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 cast a ballot, while the overall voter turnout was 61.1 percent. In fact, the Canadian Election Study for the years 1965 to 2000 shows a steady decline in the estimated voter  turnout for eligible voters ages 18 to 24 since 1993. This has been attributed to a number of factors, including not knowing where or when to vote and being too busy. But in the words of Ilona Dougherty of Apathy is Boring (a group that uses art and technology to educate Canadian youth about democracy), many youth don’t vote because “we don’t ask them to.” Student Vote aims to change this trend by  asking young  Canadians to  vote well before their eighteenth birthday in the hope that voting becomes a habit. I wanted to run Student Vote in my classroom to develop and foster the kind of excitement I felt as a first-time voter.

What is This Student Vote You Speak Of

Student Vote is a non-partisan, national organization that  runs  parallel elections coinciding with official elections taking  place municipally,    provincially    and    federally. Participating schools are supplied with all the necessary materials to inform  students about the issues and the tools they need to run their very own election, allowing them to consider and vote for the same candidates as the adults in the school’s electoral district. By implementing Student Vote in your school, you will have the opportunity to model civic engagement, foster a passion for democracy, and learn more about politics, all while meeting many  curriculum  expectations. In my class, students were able to compare Canada’s current political issues to those at the dawn of Confederation, offering a current context for what they were learning about the history of politics in Canada. As an added bonus, running Student Vote is a lot of fun and is a great way to engage twenty-first-century learners in an authentic and meaningful way.

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