Online push to capture young voters’ attention

Trail's Helen Bobbitt has started up a non-partisan Facebook page to help people keep up as the election season begins.

A Trail mother of two is asking residents to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming federal election.

Helen Bobbitt kicked off the start of the 11-week campaign with a Facebook event to keep people, especially her neighbours, connected and ultimately encouraged to vote.

“This is the opportunity to drive our country in a different direction if that is what’s meant to be and we have to be a part of that,” she said.“If you don’t vote and you’re complaining about who’s heading up your country, then you have to be a bigger part in influencing that.”

Bobbitt used to broadcast for EZ Rock, or KBS as it was called when her voice was heard across the local airwaves. Today she is a FortisBC employee, but her passion for current affairs and politics keeps her tuned in.

Let’s Change This Country- VOTE Oct. 19” does not come with a bias, she attests. It’s just a place where people can follow the campaign and find out simply how to vote.

“You can’t convince people to do what they don’t want to do but at the same time, we are too complacent,” she added. “People have either given up or frankly don’t care. But we’re not in a position to live in this world and not try and make a difference to some degree.”

She said she feels it’s her responsibility to inform her peers and trusts education could change the downward trend of voter turnout.

In 2011’s federal election, about 61 per cent of registered Canadian electors turned out to cast a ballot, according to Elections Canada. While this is up slightly from the nearly 59 per cent who voted in 2008, it is a far cry from the 75 per cent that Canada averaged in the decades following the Second World War.

Turnout for young Canadians was far below the average – about 39 per cent of those in the 18 to 24-year-old age group and 45 per cent of people between the ages of 25 to 34 years old voted.

Using social media, she said, could drive these figures up.

“The younger generation doesn’t really know or care to some degree and those that do care say, ‘Well nobody listens, anyway,’” she said.

But young people should care because issues like tuition fees and minimum wage impact their lives, according to Suzanne Larocque.

The Selkirk College nursing student took action into her hands this spring, encouraging younger voters to do the same by setting up a voter registration booth at the Castlegar campus. The third-year student wanted to start the conversation early so that her peers were engaged and prepared to make a decision come fall.

“I hope to make a small step toward reconnecting youth with Canada’s democratic process,” she was noted on the school’s website.

From speaking with her classmates, it was obvious that young people lacked an understanding of politics and felt a disconnect with the traditional process of heading to the polls. That’s not to say they don’t care; she said, just look at how they add their voice to petitions, blogs and rallies.

“I will be satisfied if a few individuals start to think more about how their participation can shape Canada’s future for the better,” she added. “Youth are powerful, smart and passionate; I want them to know that Canada will be a better place with their involvement.”

Bobbitt is hopeful that providing information on a site young people already use will make it easy for them to get on board.

The online push so far provides a link to Elections Canada’s website (www.elections.ca), where detailed information on how to vote is provided. It also features this year’s front-runners (Conservative leader Stephen Harper, NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau for Liberals, and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May). But the page has yet to introduce South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding candidates: NDP candidate Richard Cannings, Liberal Connie Denesiuk and Conservative candidate Marshall Neufeld.

“I’m trying to garner all the information in one place, so people don’t have to go to Google and find it 10 different ways,” Bobbitt explained. “But really it’s up to people to be educated on the platforms.”

She’s passionate about protecting the country’s “food for the future,” and taking care of veterans – “the people or the reason we’re able to live in a free country.”

She can’t help but reflect on third-world countries, where struggles are real, and voting is taken seriously.

“We take for granted that we have this right to vote that was fought for so long ago and really is something that we have to pay greater respect to,” she added.

The Facebook event is slowly building up, and Bobbitt expects some of the already 500 people invited will take note of her efforts and accept the invitation to participate.

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