COLUMN: Do your democratic duty

Though an essential part of our democracy, low voter turnout rates are a serious concern.

COLUMN: Do your democratic duty

With a provincial election on the horizon, the political pundits are once again pulling out their analytical tools and predicting possible results.

And though I have always been intrigued by politics, this year is going to be even more exciting.  For the first time, I will be able to exercise my right to vote and participate in the political process.

For many individuals, however, voting carries little importance.

Though an essential part of our democracy, low voter turnout rates are a serious concern. Voter apathy is an issue that not only affects our society at an individual level, but essentially renders our democracy as dependent on the actions of a fractional voting population.

One would imagine the democracy that so many around the world fight for would carry greater importance. Yet the statistics show a very disturbing trend.

In the 2011 federal election, only 38.8 per cent of youth voted. In the 2009 provincial election, just 51 per cent of all eligible voters went to the ballot box. The level of total voter turnout was even lower in the Surrey civic election – 25% per cent.

Certainly, the apathy and lack of action on the part of many of our elected representatives seems to have a trickle-down effect on youth attitudes towards politics. However, this is no excuse for the disconnect. (And the issue of apathy is not isolated to youth. Voter turnout rates in other age groups have also been quite low).

The problems of apathy and youth voter disconnect are widely known. Yet the ultimate voting power rests in our hands. To hold the right to vote and yet disregard its importance is an affront to our democracy.

Governments and academic institutions are certainly taking notice of the problem. In a speech at the World Universities Forum, earlier this year, Andrew Petter, the president of Simon Fraser University (SFU), described the excellent way in which universities could help alleviate the lack of civic engagement and strengthen democracy by engaging in a two-way dialogue with the communities in which they reside and therefore, increase public engagement.

Last August, the B.C. government began examining e-voting. This is a step in the right direction.

The idea of lowering the voting age to 16 also deserves mention.

As Canadians, we also need to have an open conversation on mandatory voting. While this issue has been raised in the past, it is time we reignite this conversation and have a healthy debate on its pros and cons.

Certainly, in Australia, it has proven quite a success. In that country, there has been a 95-per-cent voter turnout rate. However, because such steps are unlikely to be fully debated within the next few months, it is important for youth to prove that we really do care about the state of our government. We must not only vote in the upcoming provincial election on May 14, but also educate ourselves about the candidates, political parties, and their agendas.

As we prepare for future elections, I urge my fellow youth to shed their layer of apathy and get out there to vote. To convert that piece of paper into a representation of your voice is certainly something I look forward to.

Do not underestimate the power of your vote.  As Ralph Emerson writes: “Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ’Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.”

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

Surrey North Delta Leader