Peninsula students eager to cast ballots

Education, empowerment keys to increasing voter rates, say students at Parkland Secondary School

Parkland Secondary students Ryan Trelford (from left)

During this provincial election, some people might be thinking about whether they are going to vote and wondering if it’s worth the effort.

It might be of interest to know that there are plenty of young people clamouring for the opportunity to cast a ballot, looking for any chance to take part in Canada’s democratic system.

There are a few of those young people at Parkland Secondary School in North Saanich and even though they, and many of their classmates, cannot technically vote yet, they will do it anyway on May 9.

It’s part of Student Vote, a program operated by CIVIX, a charitable organization encouraging youth to experience the democratic process firsthand, by voting in parallel with official election periods. Head of the Parkland social studies department, Sheila Stelck, says the goal of this program is to have the entire student body cast ballots after they learn a bit about the reasons why you should vote. The results will be sent to Student Vote and compared with the results of the May 14 provincial election.

Stelck has gotten a lot of help from some enthusiastic Grade 12 students who have some serious ideas on how to lessen voter apathy.

Brandon Turner says voting starts when people have the skills and education enabling them get take part.

“It takes events like this to get people involved and prepared to vote and understand the process,” he said, agreeing with Stelck that once a new voter has that, the momentum keeps them part of the democratic process.

“It’s important to participate,” added Ryan Trelford, “to take something away from the experience and realize that your votes counts for something.”

He said an individual’s vote has their values attached to it.

Kate Service says he own family has a mix of attitudes — one parent doesn’t vote at all and the other is helping her make up her own mind when it comes to voting. Service said education is important in knowing the system, what each vote means and how a person can participate in democracy.

Eric Dykeman adds voter apathy does seem to be a trend as people in many different generations turn away from the election process.

“People of all ages need to be motivated, empowered and have good choices to vote for,” he explained. “Sometimes the choices are not clear and they are just handed to us.”

Trelford noted that B.C. politics is very divisive, adding he would find it hard today to make a choice as to who to vote for.

“People start out voting, they want to do it,” added Service, “but changes to party or a politician can occur and people lose hope.”

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Turner said there are still many reasons to vote in an election, the main reason being people are affected directly by the various levels of government. He agreed that voting doesn’t stop the democratic process — it’s a participatory process.

An area where all four students agreed would help with voter turnout, is a lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16. Already capable of handling some of life’s biggest responsibilities, Trelford said getting the vote early would make people into more active citizens.

“Politicians need to move with the times,” Trelford said. “They’re trying, with social media, but we’ll probably see a change in voting demographics in the next election.”

Service said lowering the voting age would require more education on Canadian history and in this country’s democratic system — something she said isn’t mandatory in today’s schools.

“Some of my friends have a similar level of interest in this as me,” she said. “Some can’t vote but those who can are just as confused as I am about who to vote for.”

She added much of the discussion around politics is convoluted and the language can be hard to understand. Again, another reason why some people might feel disillusioned.

The students also agreed that youth develop their values and ethics over time and they need the education and guidance to become voters. All four have supportive parents — people, they say, who discuss the issues with them and give them the freedom to make their own choices come election time.

They hope to share this foundation with their fellow students leading up to May 9 and the student vote. It will take place over the lunch hour that day and the results will be made part of the Student Vote tally after May 14. An earlier item in the News Review noted the vote would take place May 13. That, however, is a Pro-D Day and students are not in school, do the event date had to be changed.