Photo by Andrew Hung
Despite being too young to vote in the upcoming municipal election, some students across Richmond are already getting involved through both local and national initiatives.
Students at H.J. Cambie Secondary School, Steveston-London Secondary School, and 11 elementary schools have been participating in Student Vote, a program that has served as a “parallel election for students” across Canada since 2003.
“Student Vote gives students a wonderful opportunity to explore their own political ideology, listen to the candidates, find a political ideology that resonates with them, learn about the election process and engage in the democratic process of voting,” says Stephanie Christie, a social studies teacher who is heading Student Vote at Steveston-London.
In these weeks leading up to the municipal election, students are learning about government and the electoral process, as well as the platforms of the official candidates who are running.
During the last federal election, students at Steveston-London were also able to attend an all-candidate forum.
“It (Student Vote) turns the municipal election into an authentic opportunity for students by engaging them with a hands-on experience in real time, as opposed to learning about civics and citizenship from a textbook,” says Simrit Ollek, an educational facilitator who is in charge of Student Vote at Cambie.
The program also gives students a chance to voice their own opinions. At Cambie, some of the most discussed issues are tuition rates and support for mental health.
The conversations and research will culminate in ‘Student Vote Day,’ held right before the actual municipal election, where students will get to cast ballots for candidates they have been learning about.
“The candidates listed on the student ballot will be the same as the candidates on their parent’s ballot,” says Christie.
On Student Vote Day, students in Christie’s Grade 10 Social Studies class will also be participating as electoral officers and scrutineers.
The results of the students’ voting will be released only after the official ballots have been tabulated. But the experience and dialogue arising from it will hopefully have a longstanding impact on all Richmond voters, not just students.
“Kids talk to their parents, they have that conversation, and hopefully that will encourage the parents to learn a little more, and go out to vote, and maybe even take their children to the polls with them,” says Justinne Ramirez, the Elections Communications Specialist for Richmond Elections.
For some students, the political conversations with friends and family have already begun, says Ollek.
“They are developing their own world views and recognizing the importance of voting and being an active and engaged citizen,” she says.
Piquing young people’s interest about the election process is also the inspiration behind Youth at the Booth, a City of Richmond program that is hiring individuals between ages 15 and 18 to work during the weekend advance voting days and General Voting Day.
“The goal of the Youth at the Booth program is to involve future voters at a young age, which will likely increase their interest in voting when they turn 18,” said a news release from the City of Richmond.
Election staff will have many duties on voting days, including directing electors to the correct election officials, informing electors on where to find the election results, and performing other general tasks throughout the voting place.
“Youth at the Booth is a first time for us, where we have youth working at the election with officials,” says Ramirez.
“We think it’s an excellent way to get students involved in the electoral process, and we are fortunate to have received so many applications from different parts of Richmond.”