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Electoral Insight – Youth Participation in Elections

Electoral Insight – July 2003

Chief Electoral Officer's Message
Youth Participation in Elections

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Democracy is based on the right of citizens to participate in making the decisions that affect them and in determining the rules by which they agree to live together. These fundamental rights find full meaning only when citizens engage, as actively as possible, in public life. The act of voting is an essential manifestation of that engagement.

This special issue of Electoral Insight is devoted to exploring a major challenge to contemporary Canadian democracy: the decline in voter turnout during the past decade and, in particular, among the youngest group of eligible Canadians. The trend is not entirely new; nor is it confined to Canada. It could, however, worsen if steps are not taken to reverse it.

From an average of 75 percent during the period from the Second World War to 1988, voter turnout in Canadian federal elections declined in 1993 and again in 1997. At the most recent general election in 2000, voter participation dropped further to slightly more than 64 percent of registered electors. Most troubling is the finding of a major research study by professors Jon Pammett (Carleton University) and Lawrence LeDuc (University of Toronto) that only about one quarter (25.4 percent) of eligible 1824-year-olds voted in the 2000 election.

I am grateful to all the authors of the articles published in this issue for agreeing to share their research and analysis on the subject of declining youth electoral participation. Taken together, their contributions indicate that young Canadians have not been exercising their democratic right to vote to the same degree as older citizens because of lower levels of political knowledge, feelings of apathy, a declining sense that voting is a civic duty, and limited contact with political parties and candidates.

As I said in my address to the Symposium on Electoral Participation in Canada at Carleton University on March 21, 2003, Elections Canada is committed to addressing the issue of declining turnout among young Canadian voters. Certain measures will be implemented by the time of the next federal election, while others will be launched following consultations and, in some cases, pilot projects.

Elections Canada will expand its efforts to promote young Canadians' understanding of the electoral process through information campaigns and joint initiatives with organizations interested in civic education. For example, Elections Canada is partnering with Cable in the Classroom to develop a new voter education program for students. In a contest to be held this autumn in each province and territory, young people between 16 and 18 years of age will be challenged to create 30-second public service announcements (PSAs) on video to tell their peers why the democratic process and voting are important.

We will also ensure that access to the electoral process is as convenient as possible for young voters and, indeed, for all voters. During the next general election, Elections Canada will conduct special registration drives to target student residences and neighbourhoods, and place more polls in locations to which young people have easy access. We are also planning to send a card to Canadian citizens following their 18th birthdays, with a message from the Chief Electoral Officer congratulating them on attaining the right to vote and reminding them to register.

Recognizing the need for a shared effort to address the drop in youth voting, Elections Canada will host a National Forum on Youth Voting, in Calgary on October 3031. It will bring together youth, Aboriginal, business, labour, political party and non-governmental organization representatives, as well as academics, researchers and the media. Participants will exchange information about activities to address the decline in youth voting, and offer suggestions for further actions.

I invite parliamentarians and political parties, as well as business and civic leaders, youth representatives and the media to join a national dialogue in search of ways to encourage more young Canadians to vote. Without concerted efforts, there are strong reasons to believe the drift to lower turnout will continue. We must not let that happen.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley


Note: 

The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.