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BC Election 2013  

Low turnout in BC a youthful problem

This week's provincial election in British Columbia was the first chance 18-year-old Merwa Almalike had to vote since she became eligible almost a year ago.

But like so many people her age, she didn't. In fact, she wasn't entirely sure whether she was even old enough to cast a ballot.

"I felt too lazy, I don't really pay attention to politics," said Almalike, while out for a walk through downtown Vancouver on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm sure it affects me, but at the same time, I don't really notice it."

The night before, the province's governing Liberals pulled off a shocking victory, winning a majority government with 44 per cent of the popular vote.

The initial totals put voter turnout at just 52 per cent, slightly better than last year's record low of 51 per cent, but continuing the abysmal voter turnout rates that have plagued federal, provincial and municipal elections across the country. The final turnout rate is expected to increase by at least several percentage points after absentee ballots are counted.

Academics and pundits have a list of competing theories about why turnout remains so low, but many focus on the continuing inability to convince young people to vote.

In the 2009 provincial election, just 39 per cent of registered voters aged 18 to 24 cast ballots. For all registered voters under 45, the figure is 42 per cent. And younger voters typically aren't registered, either. In 2009, only 69 per cent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 were actually on the voters' list.

Even Almalike, who is blunt about the fact that she just doesn't pay attention to politics, can spot the trend.

"There are plenty of people who don't vote, and I think they're probably around my age, too," she said. "They haven't really experienced life, they don't really know yet. Once they get older, they'll have an understanding and they'll probably vote."

Elections BC staged a massive public awareness campaign ahead of Tuesday's vote, blanketing the province with posters, TV and radio commercials, and social media content telling voters, particularly younger British Columbians, how to vote.

Voters could cast their ballots pretty much whenever they wanted during the campaign, either by visiting district electoral offices, dropping by one of the many advanced polling stations last week, or visiting any polling station, regardless of what riding it was located in, on Tuesday.

Don Main of Elections BC says it's too early to tell whether the campaign worked.

He noted absentee ballots boosted the turnout in 2009 by roughly five percentage points in the weeks following the election, and he expects those ballots will account for even more votes this year.

"We don't know what the final number is yet," he said Wednesday.

"So far, we're better than 2009, and if that was because of our public awareness campaign, that's great. I think Elections BC did the job it needed to do, which was get the information out to all British Columbians."

Paul Kershaw, a University of British Columbia researcher who runs the campaign Generation Squeeze, says he thinks politicians have spent years ignoring younger voters, who in turn are ignoring the entire process.



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