Elections Canada's Youth Voting Activities
Elections Canada has taken a number of initiatives to inform young voters about the electoral process. They follow Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley's commitment at the National Forum on Youth Voting held last October in Calgary, Alberta, (see p. 32) to address the issue of declining voter turnout among young people. While the general turnout at the 2000 general election was slightly over 64%, only about 25% of electors aged 18 to 24 used their right to vote. "Elections Canada is committed to action on declining voter turnout among young people," said Mr. Kingsley. "Citizens who stand back from the electoral process miss an important opportunity to have their say."
New Web site for young electors
Elections Canada launched a new Young Voters Web site on February 6, 2004, to educate users about the electoral system and democracy. It provides interactive content and is fully integrated with the main Elections Canada Web site at www.elections.ca. Teaching guides and activities are also available for primary and secondary school teachers. Elections Canada consulted youth to learn more about their needs and preferences before redeveloping its previous Web site for youth. "We expect the new site to become the cornerstone of electoral information for young Canadians and of our youth outreach programs," stated Mr. Kingsley.
"Your Vote ... Your Voice" contest
A joint venture last autumn between Elections Canada and Cable in the Classroom, the leading provider of educational cable programming in Canada, gave students in Grades 10–12 (Secondary IV, V and CEGEP in Quebec) a chance to share with peers their ideas about the importance of electoral and democratic participation. More than 100 entries were received from 11 provinces and territories. Thirteen student groups received awards for producing exceptional 30-second videos to convince young people to vote. The winners were announced on February 6, 2004, at the Flexible Learning and Education Centre in Bedford, Nova Scotia, one of the schools in which students produced a winning video. "The young Canadians' ability to relay complex themes through words and images showed great promise as a means of reaching out to and engaging Canadians," said Mr. Kingsley. The winning videos may be broadcast nationally this year by more than 30 cable providers and programmers.
Chief Electoral Officer writes to young Canadians
The Chief Electoral Officer has written to some 1.1 million young Canadians who turned 18 after the 2000 federal election, reminding them of the significance of their right to vote. In February, approximately 800,000 young people who are in the National Register of Electors received a card with a message from Mr. Kingsley. Another 300,000 who were not yet registered, or who may not have responded to previous mailings, also received the card, as well as a registration form. The mailing is one of several initiatives to ensure that eligible Canadians across the country are registered to vote in upcoming federal elections and that the National Register of Electors is as up to date as possible. For more information, visit www.elections.ca and click on "Leave Your Mark."
Parallel election for students
Elections Canada and Student Vote 2004 have developed a joint initiative to provide students who have not yet reached voting age with the opportunity to experience the federal electoral process through a parallel election. The election simulation follows the success of Student Vote 2003, held during the Ontario provincial election, in which nearly 335,000 students participated. Students will vote for candidates in their school's electoral district and assume the roles of returning officers and poll clerks. Participating high schools will receive free, non-partisan educational resources, including riding maps, posters and an instructional guide.
"This innovative educational program, organized by youth for youth, will deepen young Canadians' understanding of elections and the democratic process," said Mr. Kingsley at a press conference on March 4, 2004. "Student Vote 2004 is proud to receive the support of educational organizations in every province and territory, and now Elections Canada, to inspire our students into active citizenship," added Taylor Gunn, Chief Election Officer of Student Vote 2004.
Global Bill of Rights for People with Disabilities
An international conference on Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities was held in Sigtuna, Sweden, in September 2002. The conference resulted from a collaboration involving the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the International Foundation for Election Systems, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Elections Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, played a leading role in the planning of the conference. To follow up on the conference, a group of experts on disability issues, elections and legislative practices met in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 2003 Global Workshop to Draft and Advance Model Election Law Provisions to Ensure Electoral Participation of People with Disabilities. (Electoral Insight, March 2003, includes a report on the Sigtuna conference.)
Participants developed draft model legislation to ensure that citizens with disabilities have equal access to the electoral process.
Among the draft provisions are obligations for electoral management bodies to ensure that all procedures prescribed in any electoral or related legislation are equally accessible to all citizens. As well, the draft law outlines responsibilities of electoral management bodies to consult disabled persons' organizations (DPOs) on any proposed change or interpretation of any law that would affect their ability to participate equally in the conduct of elections. In addition, electoral management bodies would ensure that DPOs have the right and are accredited to observe and monitor the electoral process at all levels.
A draft strategy was formulated to advance and encourage the adoption of these legislative provisions by parliaments around the world. A proposed agenda for a global workshop on election law reform and disability access was also developed. The proposed goals of the workshop (date to be determined) are to finalize the model election law provisions and to begin implementing a strategy for their adoption.
Update: Afghanistan in Preparation for Elections
From April 2003 until June 2004, the Elections and Registration in Afghanistan (ERA) Project is supporting the Afghan government and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in implementing a transitional electoral framework.
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) civic education staff has organized 869 workshops with almost 23,000 participants, more than 30% of whom are women. The project organizers are now looking at expanding by adding components such as mobile civic education cinemas. Additional next steps include establishing training programs for election officials and conducting a security assessment.
Elections Canada, through Diane R. Davidson, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer and Chief Legal Counsel, was mandated to provide oversight and strategic direction to ERA. During the planning phase, Elections Canada co-operated with IFES to implement the necessary program activities. The Honourable Jean-Jacques Blais, who was Head of Mission for ERA from January 2003 to September 2003, and other senior officials involved in the process met with Afghan ministries in Kabul to discuss a national voter registration campaign, an identity document distribution program and the establishment of electoral institutions and processes.
Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held in September. The Government of Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency, allotted $1.5 million for the project.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.