Lack of access — not apathy — reason behind low young voter turnout, group says

A B.C. student group that is trying to boost young voter turnout for the May 9 provincial election says the key issue is access — not apathy.

Just under 48 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 voted in B.C.'s last provincial election. In comparison more than 65 per cent of people over 75 turned out to vote.

Alex McGowan, the chair of the Alliance of B.C. Students, says low youth voter turnout is often used to inaccurately depict young people as apathetic about the political process.

"I'm not concerned about motivating young people to vote," he said. "Young people have their issues. They know why they're voting. They have their reasons for caring about their future and that's not what explains low voter turnout."

Instead, he says young people aged 18 to 24 often face structural barriers to voting like moving jurisdictions, lacking a fixed address, and limited outreach from political parties.

"One of the biggest indicators of whether a person is going to vote is whether they are registered, and a lot of young people just aren't registered,"  McGowan explained.

He says his group is working on peer outreach campaign to help young people register and coordinating efforts with student societies across B.C. campuses. 

National trend shows promise

There is evidence from the 2015 national election that shows increasing accessibility through such initiatives could increase youth voter turnout, according to one expert.

"It was young people who had the highest increase in turnout from election to election — over 18 percentage points for 18 to 24 year olds. No jump has been seen like this since we have measured turnout by age," said Jane Hilderman, the executive director of Samara Canada, a non-partisan civic organization based in Toronto.

Hilderman said many things could explain the jump, but accessibility was a major factor.

"There were more advanced days to vote, as well as pilot projects across university and college campuses to make polling stations more available to young people that I think were very successful," she explained.

She said she hoped the trend would continue in subsequent elections.

"Those first time voters will hopefully return to the ballot box in the next election."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled B.C. student group rallies to get the vote out