The Special Ballot: Why Young People Don't Vote?

By Melanee Thomas on Oct 8, 2008

I live in Montreal at least 10 months out of the year. However, my permant residence remains my parents' farm in south-western Alberta. Based on electoral law in Canada, I could vote in my riding back home, or I could vote in the riding I live in while at school.

In Montreal, I live in Gilles Duceppe's riding. He's going to easily take the seat, and I don't want to give the Bloc the $2 that goes along with my vote (thanks to Bill C-24, passed in 2003). In Alberta, my riding (Macleod) contains five reservations, and there's a First Nation's candidate on the ballot for a party I'm happy to see my $2 go to. As a result, I needed to get a special ballot to vote in Alberta. 

I called Elections Canada's 1-800 number on the website, where they gave me the address to the closest local office in my riding in Montreal. I arrived there yesterday at about 3:30 in the afternoon. I'm still a student, and I tend to leave things to the last minute. The deadline for registering for a special ballot was at 6 pm that evening. 

I was informed immediately that the whole process would take about an hour and a half. I filled out a form indicating my at-school address and my permanent address. I was then "revised": an Elections Canada agent found me on the permanent register of electors and recorded the constituency I was registered in. This process was made far simpler because I had voted in the Macleod riding in 2006. 

I then waited for another Elections Canada agent to walk me through the special ballot process. This takes significantly more time. They need to confirm my address, which in my case was a challenge as my permanent address is a post office box. None of our mail comes to the farm directly, so I have no proof of address that has the farm's land location. I can, of course, rattle it off verbally, but it confuses most city folk. I confused the urban Elections Canada person by talking about how the farm was "west of the four ... that is, the fourth meridian", at which point, he believed that I wasn't trying to vote in every riding and using post office boxes to do so. 

He then put my special, write-in ballot into an envelope, and another envelope, and another envelope, which I then took to Canada Post and dropped in the mail. I had to pay for my own stamp. 

Here's why I think this process might depress youth voter turnout. A significant number, if not a majority of young adults between 18 and 25 are post-secondary students. If they've voted before, they need to be revised on the register to reflect their at-school addresses. If they've not, they need to be added. Both actions require initiative from individual students, as Elections Canada cannot reach them without the students taking such initiative. Many students simply do not know this. 

Misinformation still abounds about residency requirements, and students often confuse provincial requirements (6 months in Alberta, for example) with the less-stringent federal requirements. 

Nearly everyone who was voting yesterday at that particular Elections Canada office were post-secondary students. However, most of the revisions were locals who's address was incorrect, and many of them came with their voter information cards Elections Canada mails out. Youth voting would increase if we could tap into and inform the student constituency; I remain stumped about the best way to do so. 


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It's interesting that you

It's interesting that you post this. My class was filmed for a CTV segment about youth voter turnout. I'm not sure if you watched the program or saw me. I think it's hard for youth to become engaged when politicians talk about issues that are irrelevant to them. For youth with an interest in politics, such as myself, I found that the US election overshadowed the Canadian election. In addition, with the recent news of the financial fiscal, a lot of the attention is diverted away as well.

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