Coyle: Important to get young people to vote

There and great reasons…to get students to register to vote and then to exercise their franchise.

The countdown toward the May 14, 2013 provincial election is on.

And as sure as we’ll see more showers and get tired of election commercials before the end of the next seven weeks, there will be a lot of discussion about the importance of the “youth vote.”

I suspect that particular discussion will last far past May 14, and in centuries of elections to come—if democracy isn’t replaced by some heretofore unimagined form of social media—it will still be a topic of discussion.

There’s good reason for an emphasis on the youth vote, and great reasons that organizations such as the Okanagan College Students’ Union (OCSU) and others are involved in things such as Rock the Vote; a campaign intended to get students to register to vote and then to exercise their franchise.

And the reasons boil down to two things: Numbers and different perspectives.

First, the numbers.

In the last provincial election in B.C., there were 380,242 voters aged 18 to 24 who were eligible to vote. Only 69 per cent of those fresh young faces registered to vote. And only 102,220 actually took the time to vote on May 12, 2009; a measly 26.88 per cent participation rate.

Of all age cohorts, the youth cohort has the lowest percentage of voter registration, and the lowest percentage of eligible voters who voted.

Assuming that participation in the democratic process is something we value as a society, from everyone’s perspective there is reason to encourage youth to vote. From a candidate’s point of view finding something that resonates with young voters and encourages them to register, vote and then vote for you is a no-brainer.

That brings us to reason number two: Perspectives.

From a young person’s point of view, becoming engaged in the political process and voting throughout life is a means of ensuring that you have a say in how limited resources will be apportioned to causes and government undertakings that are important to you.

Don’t participate and you risk having those with perhaps a different agenda—i.e. the plus-65 age group—carrying the weight into elections. (Just as an aside, the 65-plus cohort likes to register and vote: 67 per cent of the 616,771 eligible voters who could vote in the last provincial election took the opportunity.)

There are many issues that are, or should be, of interest to youth.

The one that Rock the Vote, the OCSU, and representatives of Elections B.C. are focused on is the most basic: Participation. They have avoided partisanship and platforms to get at the critical piece; convincing youth to register and vote.

As an educational institution, we’re doing what we can to support those initiatives, including co-operating with the students’ union as it strives to register more students to vote and providing space when Elections B.C. wants to set up on campus to do voter registration drives. The students, by the way, have been very focused on setting and achieving goals in terms of registrations and pledges to vote.

To find out more about the Rock the Vote campaign, you can visit www.rockthevotebc.ca.