As an undergraduate student that has spent the last month encouraging my friends and peers to vote in the Ontario Provincial Election on June 7, I’ve heard several excuses come up about not knowing where to vote, not voting in advance, or not voting at all come June 7th. At the time, I candidly expressed that they could navigate those doubts and have a real impact in the election-- and it was critical that they did.
Many of their reasons resonated with the doubts I had as a first time voter in the Federal Election in 2015. In 2015, I recently turned eighteen, and was eligible to vote in an election for the first time. Although now I am three-quarters of the way through my degree in Political Science, in October 2015 I was beginning a degree in Medical Sciences, and although I was fairly invested in social and political issues I had not made the direct connection between politics and voting, and the issues that I cared so deeply about. When most young voters choose not to vote, they do so because the process can seem complicated and overwhelming, this is particularly true for first-time voters. Today I want to unpack those reasons and tell you that your excuses are simply not good enough to choose not to vote this week.
Excuse #1: I don’t know enough about the parties and their candidates, and I don’t want to vote because I don’t want to be an uninformed voter.
The first time I voted, this was a huge concern of mine. Three years ago, I was not following politics closely, and wasn’t sure which party or candidates my values and opinions could best represent me in the House of Commons. Even beginning to approach the parties’ platforms and the candidates seemed a daunting and over-complicated task. Luckily, I am a big fan of quizzes, and CBC’s Vote Compass was a quick and easy quiz that helped show where my views most aligned with the major parties. If you are uncertain on who to vote for on Election Day, this is a great start to help you see what issues are prevalent, and where the parties stand. Furthermore, many different media sources have been breaking down the parties’ platforms, such as Maclean’s Ontario Election Guide.
OUSA has also released some infographics on the subject you can find on our twitter and Facebook page, and Apathy is Boring has made infographics here and shared issue breakdowns in easy to understand videos.
This election, there are countless platforms to educate yourself. You can become an informed voter by spending an hour taking a quiz, watching videos, skimming social media or reading up on the platforms. Find out what matters to you, and see where the parties stand for. Then be sure to go out and vote!
Excuse #2: I don’t understand how to register to vote.
Up until I began working with OUSA and helping with the #StudentsVote campaign, registering to vote was this ominous process, probably because I didn’t quite understand what it entailed. So, let’s break it down. Registering to vote means completing a simple online form that tells Elections Ontario where you reside and provides them with some simple demographic information about you. After registering, you’ll receive a Voter Information Card, so that all you need to bring with you is one piece of ID which has your name on it, in addition to your VIC, when you head to the polls. In the Federal election, I skipped the process altogether and headed straight for the polls, which you can do again this year if you haven’t yet registered to vote. You’ll have to bring a piece of identification that has your name and a residential address listed to the polling station in your district (find out where you can go to vote by heading to Elections Ontario’s website!) Pieces of identification such as a lease, cellphone bill, or school transcript are all valid forms. You can bring an original, a copy, or even mobile receipt! Being intimidated by this process (as I was in 2015) is not a good enough excuse not to vote. If you show up at your polling station on June 7 (which you can find here) with a piece of ID confirming your residency, poll officials can help guide you through the rest.
Excuse #3: I am working on Election Day and don’t want to ask for time off or lose pay.
Under the Elections Act of Ontario, employees are entitled up to three hours of consecutive time off on Election Day to vote in the polls. Any deduction from your pay is prohibited for those three hours. If you require time off on June 7, make sure you tell your employer you will require time off to head to the polls as soon as you can, but remember - this is your right! The polls are also open from 9 AM to 9 PM, so if you have a busy day at work, you can head to the polls when you finish up!
Excuse #4: My vote won’t have an impact on the election.
At times when it appears that a party is substantially leading, or leading in the electoral riding where you will be voting, feeling that your ballot won’t have an impact is an attitude many eligible voters hold. After all, if the election is basically decided, why does it matter if you vote?
First, no election is decided until the polls close at 8 PM on June 7. Polls are often wrong. Predictions fail. People are indecisive (at least I know I am!) and the decision to vote, and who to vote for, is not fully determined until the final days, or day, of the Campaign Period.
Second, even if the party or candidate you vote for loses, increasing youth turnout is critical to ensure that issues that impact us are on the ballot in the coming years. Although most of the parties have made some points to attract students, such as increasing mental health funding promises to bolster financial assistance, and creating more experiential learning opportunities, many student concerns have been left out. The lack of emphasis on issues that matter to the youth demographic may be due to the historical voter turnout record. In the 2014 provincial election, only 34% percent of eligible voters aged 18-24 cast their ballots. Although this is over a ten percent increase from the previous 2011 election, this leaves little incentives for politicians to cater to the youth vote. However, when parties do discuss issues that matter to students, students do turn out to vote, as evident by the demographics voter surge to 55% in the last Federal election. Across Canada, our demographic shows up less in provincial elections than Federal elections, but given post-secondary education and healthcare are some of the issues that are most pertinent to students in this demographic, we should have all the more incentive to turn out.
By voting, you are telling the parties that in the next election they should be competing to get your vote, and focusing on the issues that matter most to youth voters.
Excuse #5: My life won’t change regardless of who wins the election, so I don’t need to vote.
When I hear this excuse, I often believe it stems from a similar naiveté I held in the Federal Election in 2015. I knew that I cared about certain issues, and I knew voting was important, but I hadn’t understood yet how directly government policy shaped our everyday lives. For instance, the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) that introduced net billing (students would only have to pay the net tuition OSAP didn’t cover, rather than the full price and then receiving loans and grants) greatly impacted the financial security of so many of my peers. The curriculum we teach our kids in schools surrounding sexual education and gender diversity shapes their understandings of diversity and inclusivity, consent, and healthy relationships later in life and when they enter university. The next provincial government will either continue, increase, or scrap rent controls that impact our ability as emerging professionals to live affordably and in quality housing; they impact the accessibility and ease of using public transit; they help set the minimum wage, and they will determine our energy strategy and our efforts to fight climate change.
While you may not see the impacts immediately on June 8, the leaders we elect determine many aspects vital to our daily lives that will impact us at least until the next election, and some policies may have far-reaching impacts. Make sure that you vote and avoid regretting not having a say in how you live for the next four years, or where our province might be in the next four years.
Excuse #6: I don’t like any of the political parties, so I will choose not to vote intentionally to make a political statement.
Following my first year as an undergraduate student at Western, I travelled to Hawaii with a couple of my best friends to celebrate the end of our first year at university. At this point, my interest in politics had spiked, and I was closely following the leadership race for the presidential nominations in the United States. My friends and I were staying in a hostel with many Americans, and the belief that both expected candidates for the Democrats and the Republicans were not appealing as the future President of the United States was a common sentiment shared among them. I think we can say that this might be a similar case in this provincial election. I have heard from many individuals who feel unsatisfied with candidates or that they don’t like any options presented, so doesn’t it make more of a statement not to vote?
In my opinion, the answer is no! As previously mentioned, the turnout for the 18-24 age bracket is already way below the average. Not voting may send a message that young voters do not care and are disengaged, rather than illustrating their intent to make a statement. Furthermore, not voting doesn’t help demonstrate to politicians that they should be targeting our votes.
So, what options do you have left? If you are in a position where you strongly dislike all of the candidates, I encourage you to decline your ballot. Declining your ballot is the only option, other than spoiling your ballot (marking an invalid ballot) or not showing up, that shows clear engagement and simultaneous discontent with the way our democracy is functioning. To decline your ballot, you head to the polls, and return your ballot unmarked to the Deputy Returning Officer notifying you are declining your right to vote. The ballots declined will then be counted by Elections Ontario. This allows you to make a political signal, while also helping to ensure that, hopefully, the next election students’ concerns will not simply be mentioned, but rather be priorities for our candidates running for office.
I hope that despite any of the doubts or excuses you may have previously used, that you recognize that voting is a right that is fought for in countries across the world. Each vote counts. You don’t have to be a Political Science nerd to vote in this election-- in fact, different perspectives is what makes our democracy so valuable. Let’s show that.