By Kevin Parnell
The president of the Okanagan College Faculty Association says students appear to be more engaged in this year’s federal election than in any election in recent memory.
And Tim Walters says if those students realized the voting power that they have, even more might get out and vote.
“There is no question students have massive (voting) power, this is what I have been talking to my students about,” said Walters, who works at the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College and represents the college’s faculty association. “They have the power but they are completely unaware. If you flip the numbers between voting rates for seniors and students we would have a different prime minister and a different premier.”
With UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College operating in Kelowna and with satellite campuses around the Okanagan Valley, it’s estimated some 20,000 students are hitting the books in the Okanagan. Walter says those are big numbers of potential voters that can make a difference in this election.
However past elections have shown that young people don’t get out and vote as much as the older generations.
In the 2011 federal election, according to Elections Canada, just under 39 per cent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 cast ballots, compared to more than 75 per cent of voters aged 65 to 74.
To get young people engaged and feeling that their vote matters, many have taken to technology and social media, including a former Okanagan College student and now Concordia journalism student Matthew Heuman.
Heuman developed an app this year called Vote Note in an effort to pick up the slack where he says Elections Canada no longer can, providing voter information in an easy to use app that people can access on their phones.
Heuman says the Fair Elections Act, introduced by the Harper Government, will make it harder for youth to get out and vote. So the former Penticton resident took it upon himself to develop the app for smart phones to provide the information, not only to the 18 to 24 demographic but to all Canadians.
“We just see this as the next step forward,” said Heuman in an interview with the Capital News. “Everyone has a smart phone and this should have been available 10 years ago. We didn’t reinvent the wheel here, we just made all the resources available in a much more concise way. Everything has an app nowadays and the fact we don’t have one for one of the most important processes in the country, we see that as very archaic.”
Heuman says it’s not just youth who aren’t turning out in big numbers to vote but also the 25 to 34 year old demographic, people starting families and careers. And he says together people from 18 to 34 wield plenty of power.
“The ability for 18 to 35 year olds to disrupt the process is huge,” he said. “Even just a small increase could be a dramatic shift. Five per cent of the youth demographic is 150,000 people, which is enough to make a difference. But they see voting as something that is difficult. It’s an arduous process and I think making it more accessible is the first step in getting people more engaged.”
At the Salmon Arm campus of OC, Walters agrees that there could be a shift if the younger generations came out to vote in big numbers.
“I thought for a long time that young people would be more engaged in this process and I think there is a different energy about this election that might be attractive to them,” he said. “There has been such a huge amount of bad will generated by the current government that has filtered down to young people. I hope this will be the election they come out and vote in droves.”