CIVIX brings elections into classrooms

·6 min read

On the Friday that preceded election day, the students of Saskatchewan went to the polls to cast their ballots in a mock provincial election.

“Nearly 300 elementary and high schools participated in the Student Vote program for the 2020 Saskatchewan provincial election,” said Dan Allen, Director of Content at CIVIX.

“After learning about government and the election process, researching the parties and platforms, and debating the future of Saskatchewan, students cast ballots for the official candidates running in their school’s constituency. This was the third provincial Student Vote organized in Saskatchewan to date, and the 50th Student Vote election since 2003,” said Allen.

Nearly 25,000 students cast ballots, in the 61 constituencies in the province.

“Students elected Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party to form a majority government with 37 out of 61 seats and 46 per cent of the vote. Moe also won in the constituency of Rosthern—Shellbrook with 81 per cent of the vote.

Ryan Meili and the Saskatchewan NDP took 24 seats and will form the official opposition, receiving 35 per cent of the popular vote. Meili also won in the constituency of Saskatoon Meewasin with 61 per cent of the vote.

The Saskatchewan Green Party received 12 per cent of the student vote, but failed to win a seat,” said Allan.

CIVIX

CIVIX is a non-partisan, national registered charity that was born when two previous charities joined together, namely Student Vote and Operation Dialogue.

Operation Dialogue was established by Warren Goldring in 1999. Its stated goal was to promote good citizenship through information and dialogue. It had a flagship program, the annual ‘Talk About Canada Quiz,’ which was designed to encouraged young Canadians to be more informed about their country.

The Student Vote Program was founded by Taylor Gunn and Lindsay Mazzucco in 2002.

“He (Taylor) was helping a young person who was not in the traditional school setting. He was researching education and he came across a program in the United States that set up polling stations for students at real polling stations. The idea was that the kids take their parents to the polls,” said Mazzucco.

After some more research it was clear that a similar program was not really available in Canada. Student Vote became that program.

“The first program was organized during the Ontario provincial election in 2003. The next year we did a federal election in 2004,” said Mazzucco.

From these first two elections it was clear that the program was something needed in Canada. The 2004 federal election saw schools from every province and territory participate and CIVIX just grew from there.

“In the last federal election a year ago, we had 9,500 schools participate and 1.2 million students cast their vote,” said Mazzucco.

Student Vote 2020 Saskatchewan

The Student Vote Saskatchewan 2020 program will be the 50th program made possible by CIVIX. It is not just an activity where children can cast a vote, the program’s stated aim is to develop the capacity for informed and engaged citizenship among young Canadians.

“The program is free to any school in the jurisdiction where we are running the program. Schools can sign up online and we provide them with free learning material and lesson plans to teach about government, democracy, elections and the voting process. We also share posters and electoral district maps and then ballots and ballot boxes. The ballots have the official candidates on them. Students are participating in an authentic experience. They can go home and talk to their parents about who they voted for and the goal is to foster a discussion about the election at home,” said Mazzucco.

CIVIX is a team of about 14 people who all come together to teach young people about how the electoral process works in Canada.

Student Vote is just one of the programs offered by the charity.

“We offer government budget consultations with youth, we co-ordinate visits from elected officials to come and speak to schools about current affairs. We also offer a lot of teacher training opportunities,” said Mazzucco.

The idea is to help the teacher speak to students on the issues of the day in an informed manner.

“Last year we did two events in Saskatchewan; one in Regina and one in Saskatoon leading up to the federal election. We had experts come in and talk about issues and emerging trends in democracy. We took them through the materials so they could return to their schools more motivated and more interested and able to engage more students,” said Mazzucco.

Challenges and rewards

One of the big challenges of the program is to make young people more comfortable with the political process in Canada.

“Research has shown that young people are intimidated by the process. Our goal is to de-mystify the process for them and give students a chance to get comfortable with it,” said Mazzucco.

The reason for this is not just so that voters of the future know how to cast a ballot, but to make sure that they walk into the voting booth having made an informed choice.

“It is not just about voting, it is about making an informed choice. Teaching students how to research candidates and the parties and what they stand for and how to think critically about what the parties are saying, that is all part of the program. Teaching people in general about our democracy and how government works and how elections work is greatly important to having informed and engaged citizenry,” said Mazzucco.

Working toward these goals do have its rewards.

“The feedback from teachers always motivates us and keep us engaged. Some teachers say its the highlight of their year. Hearing the students talking, not just in class, but at recess and in the hallways about the leaders debate and (hearing) how they are engaging in the debate, that is rewarding,” said Mazzucco.

The positive effects of Student Vote reaches beyond the students when they share what they have learned with their families.

“We also hear from some students and their families that the parents went out and voted for the first time because students went home and encouraged them to do so. Some parents have even changed who they are going to vote for based on the information the student brought home,” said Mazzucco.

The success of the program is evaluated in a variety of ways.

“One, it is in the number of schools that register and the number of schools that submit results and number of students that cast ballots. Then, we also do surveys. We did an evaluation last year with a research firm in the form of pre and post program surveys among the students and educators to evaluate their interest and knowledge before and then their knowledge and interest afterwards, and then we measure those changes after the program,” said Mazzucco.

With 1.2 million ballots cast from more than 8,000 Canadian schools in the last Student Vote Canada 2019 program that coincided with the 2019 federal election, it is clear the program is successful.

Victor van der Merwe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator