Why Does Election Canada Hate Young People?

This weekend the New York Times had an interesting article about how the BBC and other major media organizations are increasingly broadcasting new television episodes simultaneously around the world. The reason? The internet. Fans in the UK aren’t willing to wait months to watch episodes broadcast in the United States and vice versa. Here a multi-billion dollar industry, backed by copyright legislation, law enforcement agencies, and the world’s most powerful governments and trade organizations is recognizing a simple fact: people want information, and it is increasingly impossible to stop them from sharing and getting it.

Someone at Elections Canada should read the article.

Last week Elections Canada took special care to warn Canadian citizens that they risked $25,000 fines if they posted about election results on social network sites before all the polls are closed. Sadly, Election Canada’s approach to the rise of new internet driven technologies speaks volumes about its poor strategy for engaging young voters.

The controversy centers around Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act which prohibits transmitting election results before polling stations have closed. The purpose of the law is to prevent voters on the west coast from being influenced by outcomes on the east coast (or worse, choosing not to vote at all if the election has essentially be decided). Today however, with twitter, facebook and blogs, everybody is a potential “broadcaster.”

Westerner may have a hard time sympathizing with Election Canada’s quandary. It could simply do the equivalent to what the BBC is doing with its new TV shows: not post any results until after all the voting booths had closed. This is a much simpler approach then trying to police and limit the free speech of 10 million Canadian social media users (and to say nothing of the 100s of millions of users outside of Canada who do not fall under its jurisdiction).

More awkwardly, it is hard to feel that the missive wasn’t directed at the very cohort of Election’s Canada is trying to get engaged in elections: young people. Sadly, chastising and scaring the few young people who want to talk about the election with threats of fines seems like a pretty poor way to increase this engagement. If voting and politics is a social behaviour – and the evidence suggests that it is – then you are more likely to vote and engage in politics if you know that your friends vote and engage in politics. Ironically, this might make social media might be the best thing to happen to voting since the secret ballot. So not only is fighting this technology a lost cause, it may also be counter productive from a voter turnout perspective.

Of course, based on the experience many young voters I talk to have around trying to vote, none of this comes as a surprise.

In my first two Canadian elections I lived out of the country. Both times my mail in ballot arrived after the election and were thus ineligible. During the last election I tried to vote at an advanced poll. It was a nightmare. It was hard to locate on the website and the station ended up being a solid 15 minute walk away any of the three nearest bus routes. Totally commute time? For someone without a car? Well over an hour and a half.

This are not acceptable outcomes. Perhaps you think I’m lazy? Maybe. I prefer to believe that if you want people to vote – especially in the age of a service economy – you can’t make it inconvenient. Otherwise the only people who will vote will be those with means and time. That’s hardly democratic.

Besides, it often feels our voting infrastructure was essentially built by and for our grandparents. Try this out. In the 1960’s if you were a “young person” (e.g 20-30) you were almost certainly married and had two kids. You probably also didn’t move every 2 years. In the 60’s the average marriage age was 24 for men, 20 for women. Thinking in terms of the 1950s and 60s: What were the 3 institutions you probably visited on a daily basis? How about A) the local community centre, B) the local elementary school, and C) the local church.

Now, if you are between the age of 20 and 35 or under, name me three institutions you probably haven’t visited in over a decade.

Do young people not vote because they are lazy? Maybe. But they also didn’t have a voting system designed around them like their grandparents did. Why aren’t their voting booths in subway stations? The lobbies of office towers? The local shopping mall? How about Starbucks and Tim Hortons (for both conservatives and liberals)? Somewhere, anywhere, where people actually congregate. Heaven forbid that voting booths be where the voters are.

The fact is our entire voting structure is anti-young people. It’s designed for another era. It needs a full scale upgrade. Call it voting 2.0 or something, I don’t care. Want young people to vote? Then build a voting system that meets their needs, stop trying to force them into a system over a half century old.

We need voting that embraces the internet, social networks, voters without cars and voters that are transient.  These changes alone won’t solve the low voter turn out problem overnight, but if even 5% more young people vote in this election, the parties will take notice and adapt their platforms accordingly. Maybe, just maybe, it could end up creating a virtuous circle.

12 thoughts on “Why Does Election Canada Hate Young People?

  1. deadsquid

    So, I confess… I’m not young, and I feel pretty much the same way as you outline, with the exception of finding the traditional polling places being out of touch. I don’t go to church, elementary school, or the community centre, but I know where they are, and I think the important thing is they generally are open to anyone and/or are publicly owned (I have an issue with polling stations in churches, tbh, but that’s another story). I don’t want voting to rely on the generosity of a privately-owned facility (security guards frequently turf “undesirables” from malls), so I think the options provided are good ones.

    I do think there needs to be some engagement online, but I worry a country that doesn’t even have a “digital policy” – much less understand how the intarweebs and trust work – won’t be able to put forward a system that actually works. How many gov’t websites do you know that can scale, is trustworthy, can, and is transparent? I can think of one, and even it has problems sometimes. They’re woefully unprepared, and rely far, far too much on pork barrel consulting firms to do the work they should do.

    That’s just an opinion, however. I’m middle-aged, and the state of public networks, online services, and ability to buy shit in this country continually embarrasses me. It’s a big problem, and it starts with a general recognition that things change, and we need to constantly reinvent how we do things to keep up with the needs of our current society.

    These issues aren’t age-related. These are fundamental problems with how slow Canada reacts. We lag on almost everything internets these days, and it has _nothing_ to do with young people. I think you’ll find pretty much every age group has the same frustrations, and it’d be great to see any change to meet the needs of the people as a whole.

    Again, I agree with almost everything you say here, I just think older generations are a little more connected than you make them out to be. (and I am not just basing it on me, as I know I am pretty atypical :) )

    1. David Eaves

      Hi Deadsquid,

      Yeah, we are in agreement. My main points are that, this article was about young people, so the focus is on them. But, it is interesting how many people feel that because I talk about young people I’m somehow claiming the opposite is true of everyone who is older. I never said that older generations aren’t connected, I was just stating that younger generations are connected (What I do think is important is that young people tend to me more uniquely reliant on newer technologies, they are watching less TV, using email less, etc…). So my suggestions I thought were particularly relevant for younger voters. I could have made the issue broader, but it is easier to pitch articles on issues that a lot of people have been talking about.


  2. Michaelhvickers

    Elections Canada Chief Elections Officer Marc Mayrand says they are moving towards having e-voting: http://bit.ly/ecWJfu

    From the article: “Elections Canada is considering implementing Internet voting stations at university and college campuses as part of its 2013 online voting pilot project, Mayrand said. Any student on campus that day could use the stations to cast their ballot electronically.”

  3. Elena

    Yeah, well. We saw how Elections Canada *embraced* voting on campus: http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/elections-canada-puts-end-to-special-ballot-voting/article1987880/?service=mobile
    I think it’s really sad that one incident – which was no fault of the organizers, btw – now has been used to “refrain from setting up on-campus stations to accept special-ballot votes, eliminating a potentially easy way for students to vote early during their busy final exam period.”

  4. Michaelhvickers


    To be fair, the reason this event became controversial was because a Conservative operative attempted to interfere with the polling activities and to confiscate a ballot box. That’s a BIG nono! : http://www.guelphmercury.com/news/local/article/517010–conservatives-ask-elections-canada-to-nullify-votes-cast-of-u-of-g-wednesday
    There were also some legitimate questions about the presence of partisan leaflets at the polling site, and that parties may not have been informed of the planned polling activity so that they could send scrutineers to monitor the polling.

    I suspect that the Conservatives were still angry that the student vote-mob demonstrators had embarrassed Harper when he had visited Guelph earlier this month, and were displeased that the same activists seemed to be trying to drum up, what one might presume would be, primarily anti-Conservative special-ballot voters on campus.

    I think it was the Conservatives’ braying to have all of the special ballots collected at Guelph excluded that has led to Elections stating that there should be no more such events (for the time being). To his credit, the Chief Electoral Officer’s subsequent decision was to accept the ballots. http://www.gregburrell.ca/archives/1264
    Hopefully, Elections will see fit to review this incident and the well-intentioned initiative of the returning officer before the next election, with a mind towards devising formal procedures to facilitate more special ballot polling like this.

    Although the time to register for voting by special ballot has already passed for this election, I think it’s worth noting that even if Elections maintains its bar on returning officers establishing special ballot polling stations, there is nothing that would prevent student groups or anyone else from printing out reams of special ballot request forms and helping people to complete the forms and pop them in the mail for them. However, the voters would have to wait a bit to then receive their special ballots and mail in their completed ballot.

  5. Pingback: Voter apathy: there’s an app for that « Seven Sided Cube

  6. Kevin Newman

    Wow, poor you. You had to spend 1.5 hrs in transit and walk 15 min for an advanced poll? You do realize how expensive it would be for advanced polls to be as convenient as election days polls and therefore would likely negate the need for election day and, therefore, would no longer really be advanced polls, don’t you?

    And for a (what is a public policy entrepreneur?) you seem pretty ignorant of some pretty common-knowledge concepts: for instance: polling stations are generally found in public institutions, most of which are government owned/operated, not corporate chains. This is likely due to the fact that it is cheaper and easier logistically. In that case having them at places like the LCBO in Ontario might work with your suggestion, but that’s about it.

    In addition, you seem not to care that the reason for the election night ‘black out’ on polling information in different reason is to ensure that those in the west don’t vote to negate actual results in the east. This is very important as allowing it to happen would make western votes more significant than eastern ones, which would undermine our democratic principles.

    I’m all for (and I assume everyone else is too) engaging the youth vote, but maybe do a teensy bit of research before having an opinion on how to do this.

    1. David Eaves

      Kevin, sounds like my post really has you upset.

      A few responses.
      I’m not ignorant that polling stations on generally found in public institutions (last time I checked Subways were public). I know that coffee shops are not, but it feels like an idea worth exploring.

      I also do care that results in one zone might impact another. This is why I suggested – in my piece – that the black be everywhere until all results are in, akin to what the BBC is doing with its new episodes, broadcasting them everywhere simultaneously.


    2. Dcat

      You are all retarded. I work at Elections, and can’t believe the facts that you have all gotten wrong. Research, indeed…

  7. RG

    Canada has a semi democratic form of electing a government. In the 2009 election 940,000 people voted for the Green Party to represent them in Ottawa. There was no representation by the Greens in the House of Commons. Canada needs a porportional representation system since who wants to vote when your vote doesn’t seem to matter.
    To have a true democracy the elected representatives need to be able to put that higher good of those they represent ahead of their own interests.
    Canada isn’t aiming to be amazing. I don’t know what the political leaders are wanting to create but they seem to aim low, primarily focussed on getting elected rather than creating amazing.
    Your points about making it hard to vote and being out of date are symptomatic of having no interest in amazing(excellence) and being two or three steps behind the cutting edge.

  8. Foolish Flannery

    During our last election I wanted to vote, but had recently moved into an apartment. Went down to the elections main kiosk to get registered. First the station was across town, by no bus stops so walking took thirty minutes. Got there with my ID, hydro bill and waited thirty minutes just to talk to someone. Took about twenty more to go through all the bs and having to listen to them try to explain that I should vote in my home town, since I’d only lived in this one for four years while going to university. Not going to get into the fact that the Canadian politics system is a mess but it’s insulting that these people weren’t interested in getting me (23) to vote, but to send me somewhere else that wasn’t their problem. 

    So yeah, then I learn my polling station is ten minutes away from my apartment. Walking toward it I passed the Green Party and NDP offices; both closed and locked tight (At four in the evening). I hear all this talk about free rides to and from stations, etc but it’s bs, at least in Manitoba. Honestly, there wasn’t even a secretary or anything in the offices. No one. If some one would have been there and arranged to give me a ride I would have voted for the party. Fickle? Yeah but I hadn’t actually planned on voting for anyone anyways – and I didn’t. Just wrote ‘Intentionally spoiling my ballot’ signed my initials and dropped it in. Never mind that when I actually reached the polling station it took them another ten minutes, even with all my paper work, to find out which cardboard box I was supposed to throw my vote in. I saw two other people there who could have passed for under 25. They, like me, had the 1000 yard stare at that point as well. 

    Told this to my friends later, they called me an idiot. They were right. Is it any wonder nobody young votes? I mean, I was off that day and spent two and a half hours just to drop my meaningless protest ballot in there. Unless you have a house with three year residency, and a car and a hell of a lot of time on your hands you’re punished.


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