Apathy is Boring is a national youth-led non-partisan charitable organization that has been working to educate Canadian youth about democracy since 2004. In keeping with our strict non-partisanship policy, we do not advocate on matters of public policy, and this includes not taking a public stance for or against the Fair Elections Act. Our goal with this statement is to provide an accurate, impartial, and balanced analysis of the youth electoral context in Canada in relation to the Fair Elections Act, with the hope that this will be a valuable addition to the current debate. As such, we have suggested three key questions that should be considered:
1. If Elections Canada is no longer empowered to invest in and conduct outreach campaigns that promote voting, then who will actively reach out to non-voting citizens and youth who are deciding whether or not to vote for the first time?
2. If tighter ID requirements are implemented, it will indeed be crucial to ask the question: what means will be put in place to counter the potentially challenging impacts of tighter voter identification rules on young eligible voters who are not registered to vote?
3. In attempting to safeguard democracy from administrative risks, how can we also ensure we do not expose our democracy to another important risk given the current youth electoral context: the immediate and continued decline of youth voter turnout, and the impact this may have on long term voting habits?
Youth Voter Participation Context
Youth voter participation is not a partisan issue. It is in the interest of Canadian society as a whole to inculcate democratic values in every new cohort of adults so that our democracy thrives from one generation to the next. Youth must not be viewed as a voting block that will sway as a whole in one direction or another, as this in fact has been proven to not be the case. In fact there is proof to the contrary, the Student Vote program has shown that high school mock election results roughly mirror the actual electoral results.1 Also, a recent poll found that 18-24 year olds support the political parties in proportions that are similar to other age groups, and even the issues they prioritize are roughly the same as those of other generations, even people over the age of 60.2 A major influencing factor that determines whether or not youth decide to vote is their discussions and interactions with their parents,3which explains why their values and choices in the end are not far off from those of older generations.
Voter participation in Canada has declined significantly in the past four decades, but it has not done so uniformly across all age groups. Canadians over the age of 55 are currently voting at rates in the 70%-75% range, similar to their voting rates in early adulthood.4 Meanwhile, young people today vote at almost half the rate of youth in the 1960s. During the 2011 federal elections, 18-24 year-olds voted at only 38.8%5, continuing a long-term downward trend in the number of new voters opting into the electoral process, a trend which we see throughout the western world.
If young people vote in the first two elections in which they are eligible, they tend to continue voting for the rest of their lives. However, those who do not vote early in life are less likely to begin doing so later on.6 Therefore low-voter turnout among youth can have a significant and lasting effect on voter participation in the future.
Promotion of Democracy
(This section refers to proposed changes to Section 18 of the Canada Elections Act)
The key factor that determines voter participation is motivation to vote.7 As such, Apathy is Boring’s work focuses on providing young Canadians not only with the tools they need so that they know how, where, and when to vote, but we also running campaigns designed by youth for youth, around the equally important question, “why vote?”
Strategies that focus on motivational factors have been shown in numerous research reports to be highly effective. For example, peer-to-peer in-person motivation campaigns, like many of the campaigns Apathy is Boring organizes, have been shown to increase voter turnout by 8 to 10 percentage points.8The impact on voter turnout was not only significant, it could be measured in increments, depending on the messaging used.9 Motivation is a factor in deciding whether or not to vote, and it can be used, and indeed has been used successfully, as a lever to increase voter turnout.
We recognize that elected officials and political parties have an important role to play in engaging with voters and motivating them to vote. That being said, it is equally important, in our experience, that non-partisan actors contribute to civic and democratic education, precisely because they do not have a stake in the outcome of any given election, and these stakeholders can speak for the democratic process and its values rather than its ends. While political parties may choose to speak to their base and undecided voters, both of whom are composed of current voters, non-partisan actors such as Apathy is Boring, Samara, Student Vote, and Elections Canada aim to encourage non-voters to become voters, thus increasing the size of the voting pool. This is essential to renewing and enhancing the health of our democracy.
Apathy is Boring has a history of measuring and quantifying its impact, but to do this we require both the support of experts and a commitment by partners and institutions to building an evidence-base culture that ensures that what we do, has an impact that is both measurable and cost-effective.
Study after study has shown that as youth voter turnout declines throughout the western world, motivation is much more of a significant factor in why young people don’t vote than accessibility of the electoral process. 10 This is a critical factor to consider when aiming to address the decline in youth voter turnout, and a factor that we suggest should be considered in the debate surrounding Bill C- 23. If Elections Canada is no longer empowered to invest in and conduct outreach campaigns that promote voting, then who will actively reach out to non- voting citizens and youth who are deciding whether or not to vote for the first time? Will there be new opportunities for all democratic stakeholders, not only political parties to develop and share best practices in the area of engaging non- voters, especially youth? Will Elections Canada be able to continue to invest in research projects that aim to understand the trend of low youth voter turnout and identify which strategies might be cost-effective in turning the trend around?
Vouching and Voter Information Cards
(This section refers to proposed changes to Section 143 of the Canada Elections Act)
Why do young Canadians vote less than their older peers? We know that it is not because they believe less in democracy. In surveys of adolescents, their “intention” to vote has been measured at 80%.11This, however, does not translate directly into an equally high voter turnout. While motivation is a key factor, we must also consider a second important factor: voting accessibility.
Youth have a high level of mobility. They move away from home, go off to college, and then they move again to find work. As a result, young adults are less likely to be on the electoral list, and if they happen to be on it, there is a higher likelihood that the information will be incorrect. The impact is that they will not receive reminders to vote, or information on when, how, and where to vote. The accuracy of youth registrations on electoral lists is problematic because of their high mobility. For example, while Apathy is Boring was working side by side with Elections BC in 2013, we learned that whereas 91.3% of people over the age of 60 have correct information on the electoral list, this number falls to 72.9% for people under the age of 30.12 However, this number only includes people who are in fact registered to begin with. In BC, the electoral list includes only 62.5% of the 18-29 population. What this actually means is that there are likely13 more young people in BC who are not on the list or incorrectly on the list (54.5%) than there are people of this age group who are correctly on the list (45.5%).
To facilitate voting among population groups with greater accessibility issues, namely the elderly, youth, and aboriginal people, Elections Canada piloted the use of Voter Information Cards (VIC) as partial identification during the 2011 federal election (a photo ID was also required). This trial run was limited to certain aboriginal communities, nursing homes, and colleges, and pending its outcomes, could have been expanded nationally. A research project conducted by Apathy is Boring in 2008 found through surveys that participants from the Canadian north, primarily aboriginal respondents, agreed that voting in federal elections in the North is currently fraught with challenges. Obstacles identified ranged specifically from accessing, understanding, and then satisfying voter ID requirements to the larger issues of awareness of and education about the federal electoral system (as opposed to territorial and/or band elections). At that time Apathy is Boring recommended that Elections Canada could “capitalize on changes to ID requirements to increase the accessibility of elections to northern Canadians in an innovative and proactive way.”sup>14 VIC were a logical choice, especially since even before the Elections Canada pilot project, our research found that “many people thought that the VIC was an acceptable form of identification because it seemed to contain all the information listed as acceptable on the householder.”15 In a survey conducted by Ekos, 72% of respondents answered that being allowed to use the VIC as a proof of identification made voting either easier or much easier.16
With regard to vouching, in the 2011 federal elections, it was estimated by Elections Canada that 120,000 voters were allowed to vote thanks to this form of of attestation.17 This method is particularly relevant to urban youth who do not have proper identification, but will likely have friends and family who do. Though we appreciate the fact that voters have 39 alternative forms of authorized ID to prove their identity and residence,18 the problem remains that despite the variety of identification methods, this does not facilitate youth registration or youth voting unless youth do indeed have identification with the address where they in fact reside. If high mobility means that the proof of address is incorrect on the required identification cards, then this invalidation applies not to one single form of ID, but the others as well.
Both vouching and voter information card identification are important factors to consider when addressing the decline in youth voter turnout, and therefore should be considered in the debate surrounding Bill C-23. In the event that vouching and VIC identification are both stricken from electoral procedure, it will be important to address the new difficulty this might impose on young voters. This should include developing new programs and strategies that will facilitate the process of registering to vote in a way that is adapted to their high levels of mobility. At Apathy is Boring, for example, we encourage the implementation of youth-led, mobile registration drives that can access youth where they are and help them through the process. If tighter ID requirements are implemented, it will indeed be crucial to ask the question: what means will be put in place to counter the potentially challenging impacts of tighter voter identification rules on young eligible voters who are not correctly on the voters list?
While Apathy is Boring recognizes that all forms of electoral fraud have the potential to shake the confidence and trust that Canadians, especially youth, have in their democracy, it is important to stress that democratic life is a fine balance between security and accessibility. We encourage all Parliamentarians who will have the occasion to debate Bill C-23 to ask themselves, in attempting to safeguard democracy from administrative risks, how can we also ensure we do not expose our democracy to another important risk given the current youth electoral context: the immediate and continued decline of youth voter turnout, and the impact this may have on long term voting habits? A democracy may be very well administered and free of irregularities, but what worth would it have if this “regularity” came at the expense of citizens opting out of the democratic process?
Young Canadians deserve to be a part of the democratic process and we need them to be active citizens. An engaged citizenry is key to the strength of our democracy. If we don’t engage young people now, we are setting ourselves up for the dangerous reality of a fragile democracy and a disengaged generation. Apathy is Boring hopes that engaging youth as voters will be an important part of the debate around the Bill C-23. We continue to be committed to our non- partisan charitable mission of educating Canadian youth about democracy, and look forward to continuing our important work with the many stakeholders who are critical to addressing this issue.
About Apathy Is Boring
Since 2004, Apathy is Boring, a national, non-partisan, youth-led charitable organization, has used art and technology to educate youth about democracy and encourage them to become active citizens.
About Apathy is Boring’s Council on Youth Electoral Engagement
The Council on Youth Electoral Engagement is a non-partisan group of leading citizens from the fields of government, business, academia, journalism, and philanthropy. The Council members share a passion for youth engagement and democracy, as well as a desire to see action taken on this issue. The founding chair of the Council is Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada and former President and CEO of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. The objectives of the Council are:
- To promote awareness and action on the issue of youth voter engagement both during and between elections;
- To convene experts and practitioners in the field with the purpose of sharing knowledge; and
- To ensure that effective practices in youth electoral engagement are widely applied and supported.
Endorsement of this Statement
This Apathy is Boring Statement on the Fair Elections Act has been endorsed by Apathy is Boring’s Board of Directors and the following members of the Council on Youth Electoral Engagement:
Jean-Pierre Kingsley - Founding Chair
hief Electoral Officer of Canada (1990-2007)
The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy
President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Winnipeg
Dr. André Blais
Director, Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies, Université de Montréal
Adjunct Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law
Ilona Dougherty - Vice-Chair
President & Co-Founder, Apathy is Boring
Mackenzie Duncan - Vice-Chair
Chair of the Board of Directors & Co-Founder, Apathy is Boring
Dr. Youri Cormier – Vice-Chair
Executive Director, Apathy is Boring
Dr. Elisabeth Gidengil
Hiram Mills Professor, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, Department of Political Science, McGill University
President, EKOS Research Associates
Dr. Richard Johnston
Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation, University of British Columbia
Writer, Broadcaster, and Political Commentator
The Right Honourable Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada (2003-2006)
Campaign Advisor, New Democratic Party of Canada
The Honourable Audrey McLaughlin
Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada (1989-1995)
Peter G. White
Former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and lifelong political activist
3McIntosh, Hart & Youniss, The Influence of Family Political Discussion on Youth Civic Development: Which Parent Qualities Matter? Political Science and Politics, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jul., 2007), pp. 495-499
4Elections Canada, Voter turnout statistics since 1945
5Elections Canada, “Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2011 Federal General Election.”
6￼Mark N. Franklin, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established ￼Democracies Since 1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
7Joshua Harder and Jon A. Krosnick, Why Do People Vote? A Psychological Analysis of the Causes of Voter Turnout, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 64, No. 3, 2008, pp. 525-549.
8Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, Get Out The Vote! How to Increase Voter Turnout. Brookings Institute, 2008.
9Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, Get Out The Vote! How to Increase Voter Turnout. Brookings Institute, 2008.
10A review of the literature can be found in: Joshua Harder and Jon A. Krosnick, Why Do People Vote? A Psychological Analysis of the Causes of Voter Turnout, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 64, No. 3, 2008, pp. 525-549.
11Dietlind Stolle, Department of Political Science, McGill University http://bridgingdifferences.mcgill.ca/en/English_school_participants.pdf
122011 Voters List Quality Measurement, Elections BC, October 2011
13The number would require a slight downward modification to account for youth who are landed immigrants but who have not obtained their Canadian citizenship yet.
14Ilona Dougherty and Adrienne Smith (Apathy is Boring), Report presented to Elections Canada: Implementation of the Identification Requirements in the Canadian North, October 7, 2008
15Ilona Dougherty and Adrienne Smith (Apathy is Boring), Report presented to Elections Canada: Implementation of the Identification Requirements in the Canadian North, October 7, 2008
16 Elections Canada, Survey of Administrators Regarding the Use of the Voter Information Card as Proof of Address, 2011.