I love elections. To me, they take on the thrill of a sporting event, and watching the nightly news it certainly feels like that: a marathon of handshakes, media scrums, statements and counter-statements, ads and counter-ads, platform-proclaiming, soap-boxing, back-slapping and baby kissing. Elections are about strategy, endurance, and a whole lot of jeers and cheers from the stands.
That said, I take my right and my responsibility to vote seriously, do my best to understand the issues and the players, and keep an open mind. It’s all anyone asks: be engaged; mark your ballot.
And yet many of us remain unengaged. Two years ago the library and Samara Canada hosted a free evening called Democracy Talks aimed at stimulating discussion, particularly with youth and newcomers to Canada, about democracy. The evening was great; the numbers were not. A week later, the provincial election drew just 52 per cent of eligible voters to the ballot box.
Not everyone gets as excited as I do about elections, but getting more people out to vote is something everyone can champion, no matter what your political stripe. And so this stripeless column is about what our community is trying to do about voter engagement.
On July 22, a non-partisan group represented by democracy champions Mike Chapman and Kiara Lynch asked Nelson city council to take up the challenge to encourage people to vote, and challenge other communities to see who can increase voter turnout the most in the upcoming federal election. As races go, that’s about as win-win as you can get.
In her presentation Lynch quoted comedian, broadcaster, and democracy champion Rick Mercer, who said: “You get young people voting, next thing you know you’ll have an entire generation of informed citizens running around, taking part in democracy and feeling a real sense of ownership in Canada.” City council agreed, and the race was on.
So what about that youth? Grade 12 LVR students Dunavan Morris-Janzen and Galen Boulanger set up a voter registration booth at the school and registered 45 new voters in six days. In the end, “[youth] want to have control over their future,” said Galen in a Nelson Star article.
Castlegar nursing student Suzanne Larocque set up a voter registration booth at Selkirk College in March in hopes of inspiring her peers.
“Youth are overwhelmed and discouraged, but they are certainly not apathetic,” she said in an article on the Selkirk College website. “Youth are smart, they are constantly in connection with massive amounts of information and can tell when they are being manipulated or misled, so they choose not to engage.”
And yet, the issues of the day affect students, and indeed everyone. Getting not just youth but everyone engaged is the premise behind the Community Voters’ Challenge, which now has its own Facebook page with a comments section that is gathering momentum. And so, the conversation begins.
The race to get voters engaged, registered, and out to the polls is its own marathon, parallel to the electoral race and just as important. The difference is that this race is a non-partisan race that just wants to see everyone win by making those voter numbers soar, and democracy work.
The Nelson Public Library — your champion for all things democratic — is in conversation with Elections Canada with an eye to being a part-time voter registration centre, with the potential for similar set-ups in libraries everywhere. Stay tuned. We’re producing a voter information sheet so folks know where and how to register, about early voting and special ballots, and what you need to have with you on voting day, Oct. 19.
I’ll leave you with a few important links to help you on your way.
Community Voters’ Challenge: facebook.com/CommunityVotersChallenge
City council challenge in the Nelson Star: nelsonstar.com/news/317923711.html
Elections Canada: elections.ca
Now, let the races begin!
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.