Tara Paterson

AT ISSUE: Advocates aim to reverse rise in apathy

Camosun student Kelly Hooge doesn’t have time for politics.

As finals wrap this week, her schedule is laden with hours of homework, studying and exams.

But the 19-year-old says she’s still undecided on whether or not she’ll vote in Monday’s federal election.

“Honestly, I don’t know enough about it,” she admitted. “There’s also a lack of interest – I’m not really interested.”

Voter apathy. Statistics show it’s a growing concern among young voters come election time. During the 2008 federal election, only 37 per cent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 went to the polls.

“That’s abysmal,” said James Coccola, chair of the University of Victoria Students’ Society. The university, like many across the country, is doing what it can to engage students prior to the election.

“Right now, what we’re not seeing is a lot of attention (from candidates) put to issues that students care about,” Coccola said. “By encouraging students to vote, and showing they’re interested, parties will have to respond and start talking about issues students care about.”

The UVSS chair starred in a YouTube video alongside UVic president David Turpin, urging students to exercise their democratic right. UVic students also created a “vote mob” video to show politicians they want their voices heard.

“We want the politicians to notice that youth are going to vote, but we also want to make sure that youth are going to be out there in large numbers voting,” Coccola said.

Ilona Dougherty, executive director of the national nonpartisan group Apathy is Boring, says issues that are of interest to young voters aren’t properly represented in politics. “The primary reason (young people aren’t voting) is because they don’t feel like they have the information needed to make an informed vote,” Dougherty said. “Young people feel disconnected from the process.”

Engaging the unengaged is the goal of Apathy is Boring.

They focus on youth because that demographic’s turnout numbers are disproportionately low, and because their disinterest will impact their future.

“The reality is if you don’t vote the first two times you’re eligible, the likelihood is you won’t (vote) the rest of your life. We’re really trying to turn that trend around,” Dougherty said.

She recommends eligible voters – uninformed, disinterested, even those planning to vote – check out her organization’s resources, which include non-partisan profiles outlining each party’s stand on a particular issue.

“Young people, currently, are really not having their voices heard in the process,” she said. “The information needs to be accessible, it needs to be clear, it needs to be all in one place, so that’s what Apathy is Boring tries to do.”

There are other similar outfits, like LeadNow.ca, co-founded by former UVic student Jamie Biggar, which is an advocacy website working for a more engaged democratic process.

“We know (apathy is) not an attitude problem, it’s an action problem,” Dougherty said.

“People really do believe in democracy. We just need those who, for whatever reason, aren’t currently engaged to be motivated to participate and vote. That’s the challenge, but it’s an important part of democracy.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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What do candidates have to say about voter apathy?

Christopher Causton (Liberal, Victoria) – “We’ve used as much social media and engagement any way we can to stimulate interest in this election. I try to be everywhere, as well, so people can talk to me. I’ve been at schools, engaging young people about democracy and the fact we’re given this choice and about how important is it to vote. I’d say, on average, I talk to 400 people a day about voting and why it’s important to vote.”

Troy De Souza (Conservative, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) – “In order to engage apathetic voters you need to give them a reason to vote for something. My whole campaign has been to focus on the local issues that matter to people in the local community. Issues are the best way to get people out to vote, and, in particular, apathetic voters.”

Randall Garrison (NDP, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) – “I’ve done ads aimed at people who haven’t voted before with the tagline: ‘Decision are made by those who show up.’ We’re trying to be places where we haven’t been before and address this, especially with young voters. I also have a lot of young people involved in my campaign – my sign captain is a Grade 11 Belmont student. That participation attracts other young people.”

Elizabeth May (Green, Saanich-Gulf Islands) – “I’m not finding very many apathetic voters. People are excited. In Saanich-Gulf Islands, the level of engagement in this election is so high. The fact that this is an exciting race helps garner interest. When there’s a lot of excitement around a riding, a lot more people get excited about voting.”

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