Some students eagerly participate in elections in a partisan way by going door to door or campaigning through social media. Other students earn money by working for Elections Ontario as a Poll Clerk or Information Assistant. But when it comes to voting, it is well-known that students are one of the demographics with the lowest voter turnout for both provincial and federal elections, with only 2 out of every 5 eligible 18-24 year olds casting a ballot in the last federal election.
What is being done about it?
To combat voter apathy, the MSU has created the MacVotes campaign, aiming to both educate and engage students wishing to vote in any riding. MSU Vice President (Education), Rodrigo Narro-Perez explained, “We want students to vote regardless of where they are, whether it’s here in Hamilton or back home anywhere across Ontario.”
The MacVotes website includes a video summary of local candidate platforms and a series of FAQs for students wanting to participate in the election. On May 28, the MSU also hosted an all-candidates (from the Ancaster-Flamborough-Dundas-Westdale riding) debate on campus that was live-streamed by the Silhouette 15 days before the election. As Narro-Perez explains “the summer time is an obvious barrier but we have focused our efforts through social media to compensate”. Though the campaign is dynamic and presents a useful guide for students to vote, it is unclear whether these types of campaigns are enough to get students to actually register on the voters list and go to their local polling station to vote on election day.
The apathetic province
Ontario in particular seems to have an epidemic of voter fatigue. Less than half of eligible Ontario residents voted in the last provincial election. Dr. Katherine Boothe, a McMaster political science professor, describes how theorists like Mancur Olson (1971) argue this problem stems from the nature of democracy, “rational individuals know that their potentially significant effort to contribute to a collective or public good (like saving the environment or electing a government) will only advance the cause a small degree, and they will share the benefits whether they contribute or not”, which is coined by social scientists as the “collective action problem”.
Voting campaigns targeting youth might not provide sufficient incentive to overcome this problem. As Dr. Boothe said “recent research by Goodman (2012) suggests that young voters’ changing perceptions of citizenship and civic duty have an important role in their willingness to participate – and you probably can’t affect those with more convenient polling places or better buttons.”
The challenges of navigating the voting system are exacerbated by the Elections Ontario website. As McMaster student Sara King explains, the website is difficult to navigate “The website is problematic, it’s very hard to find what you’re looking for and the explanations are very confusing.”
Furthermore, the youth section in particular contains no compelling information or any attempt to address issues that youth in particular may face when it comes to voting, like voting in their University riding versus their home riding. As King said “The youth section is a joke”.
The initiative must be yours
If you are 18 years or older on election day, a Canadian citizen and a resident of Ontario, you can vote in the provincial election and you can choose which riding to vote in, whether that be McMaster’s riding or a home riding. However, it will be up to each individual to take the initiative to vote. Despite the MacVotes campaign, the lackluster Elections Ontario programming raises the question of how many students will end up turning out on June 12.