In May at L.V. Rogers Secondary, Grade 12 students Dunavan Morris-Janzen and Galen Boulanger set up a voter registration booth for six consecutive days in the hallway and registered 45 new voters and persuaded about 15 others to think about registering to vote in the upcoming federal election.
In the process they learned that more young people are interested in voting than they thought — it’s just that they need to be approached in the right way, and preferably not by an adult.
This week they described the experience to the Star. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Dunavan: My dad was involved in this local group of people wanting to increase the voter turnout. It was non-partisan. He invited me to a meeting and they discussed where they could set up tables. I thought the school would be cool, so I contacted my right-hand man, Galen Boulanger.
Galen: We had a couple of strategies: cookies and music. And we had some nice signs and tables set up in the hall. We had some materials from the group Dunavan’s dad is in. We made sure to reach out to our friends that we knew to try to get a crowd to our table.
Dunavan: We were getting them to register to vote. We talked to them about why they should vote. The first day we only talked to one or two people. They were not interested: I can’t vote, politics is not for me, don’t talk to me because I don’t know anything, my vote won’t make a difference.
Galen: It was too much for them. They were uncomfortable. It is just too big of a step.
The second day, we got 18 signatures. It was cool. Some people we talked to said yeah I am super interested, I don’t have my ID with me, but I will come back tomorrow. I got Facebook messages from people I would not have expected. I think it brought people together that you would not expect.
Dunavan: Some people, each day their attitude toward it slowly changed. The same people would pass by us every day. This one guy, the first four days it was: politics is too much. But on day five he said: OK, I am doing it tomorrow. And on the sixth he did it.
Galen: I definitely had some discussions with people about why a vote would count.
There were about ten people I never would have expected to sign up. Some of them were on it. I can think of a few who just sent me info right away, sent it in on Facebook. It blew me away.
Dunavan: One guy started asking questions, like can you give me the basic platform of the parties? He went from it is too much for me to please inform me. He said well, what will my vote do? And we asked him what do you care about, what is important to you, isn’t your father a teacher? The party that gets in will affect your dad’s job.
And we made that connection with a few people, and they were like: oh, interesting. We talked in terms of what they care about and how their vote will affect their personal life.
Galen: The environment came up a lot, and school funding cuts.
I have a friend who likes to just take the opposite side, and you know it is really good to have people like that, but I spent an hour and a half debating with him about why vote. It comes down to we are all living in the system and I don’t think anyone would say they totally agree or not with the current government, but by not voting you have no say in how it is run. The government is a giant system where everyone tries to work together. By voting at least you are putting in an opinion. He eventually actually agreed with me.
Dunavan: And we used that analogy of a million people standing in a group with each one thinking what could one person do? We told people that, and it started clicking.
We saw the same people very day, and all the people we saw at the beginning, registered at the end. Like this one guy who was so anti voter registration, the last day he was like, OK I am going to register.
Galen: I felt like we had the most people sign up in day three or four, but the final day was us tracking down people who had told us they were going to. Teenagers, they forget things.
We heard younger people saying, oh wow how can I get involved? I am not old enough to vote but I’d like to help.
Dunavan: We got the majority of the people old enough to vote. We were stoked. About 80 per cent. Quite a few people did some of the process and didn’t bring their ID, so we had about 60 people ready to go but only 45 were sent off.
Galen: You gotta remember that those other 15 people might do it later.
Dunavan: We planted a seed.
We were helping them register online. The Internet one is complicated and half the time it wouldn’t it work, so we ended up ditching the online one. We sat there with them and gave them hard copies and played music.
It was cool to be able to connect with our class in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have. Great to make those connections and also to see the support from the teachers, they were really stoked.
Galen: If teachers had tried to register voters instead of us? Different.
Dunavan: Yeah, it would not have worked as well.
Galen: You always hear your parents or adults say you gotta vote, and they tell you a reason, and some teenagers might not even listen. A teenager can talk to a teenager differently than an adult can.
Dunavan: They can appeal in a peer way, and in this sense it worked well.
Galen: One thing I learned was how interested people can actually be in politics, maybe not in nitty gritty politics, but in voting, how interested people were once we talked to them about what is important, and how youth actually do want to vote. They want to have control over their future — that was cool to see, cool to connect and learn. It inspired me actually.
Dunavan: I learned how uneducated we are. I didn’t even know you had to register to vote. Socials 11 is a great course but it teaches us very little about voting. And then I was shocked with how little kids knew. It is not their fault. We should be taught this and were not, so that was a huge learning for me, and also that learning of connecting with kids about this topic. I was inspired.
Galen: If you can draw people in with cookies and teach them about politics, they are going to go away not wanting the cookies, they want change.
Dunavan: (laughing) You’re making me nauseous, dude.