Electoral Insight – Youth Participation in Elections
Rush the Vote
Managing Editor, Electoral Insight, Elections Canada
Rush the Vote, an Ontario youth organization, is using music and entertainers to encourage young people "to get involved in the democratic process and to become better informed about society's issues."
At the April 6, 2003, Rush the Vote rally in Ottawa, young people voted in a mock referendum on whether the voting age should be reduced to 16.
The national Rush the Vote campaign was launched at an April 6, 2003, block party in downtown Ottawa. It was timed to coincide with the annual Juno awards. This helped attract 17 solo artists and bands, who gave free performances on a stage constructed in the middle of what is normally a busy street in the nation's capital. "If you want a large attendance, bring the music," said Paul Green, Rush the Vote's executive director. "It is the tool by which kids really understand their world. Right or wrong, that is a fact. They take their cue from the leaders of the entertainment world, not from social and political leaders. In music, they see a reflection of themselves." The rally was also supported by the national MuchMusic television channel, the National Capital Commission and three local radio stations.
Several speakers encouraged young people to get involved in political and social causes and use their right to vote. Meanwhile, many of those who attended marked ballots in a mock referendum on a question about whether the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16. By an almost two to one vote count (304 to 171), they supported making such a change.
"Rush the Vote focuses not only on trying to get youth to the polls, but to simplify information; making it easier to understand," says Mr. Green. "Many youth can't see the difference between the various parties and candidates and what they stand for. The parties have not made it clear to them."
Mr. Green also calls for the creation of a new national body with a strategy to mount a full-time effort solely devoted to informing young Canadians about the importance of voting and encouraging them to do so.
Founded in 1997, Rush the Vote was inspired by the Rock the Vote campaigns in the United States and also evolved from the Universal Black Student Association (founded because of an estimated 50 percent school dropout rate among Black youth in Ontario), and from B.L.O.C.K. Headz (Building Links on Community Korners). While survey research indicates that only about 25 percent of Canada's 18 to 24-year-olds voted at the 2000 federal election, Mr. Green believes the proportion of Black youth who cast ballots was likely much lower. "Many feel they are dealing with other day-to-day problems, including schools, jobs, careers, the judicial system. Voting is on the back burner. We are trying to show them how everything is related."
Rush the Vote plans to hold another event during the next Ontario provincial election, in a further attempt to boost youth voting. Its first major rally was held during the 1999 Ontario election, and a Dunk the Vote event, involving basketball personalities, was held in 2000 at the University of Toronto to encourage higher turnout in municipal elections.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.