Education should be first step in engaging young voters

As usual the powers that be tend to be reactive rather than proactive.

As usual the powers that be tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Whether it’s combating crime, drugs, poverty or disease, the government only seems to be motivated to change the status quo only after things have derailed. And then, of course, it’s a predictable knee-jerk reaction never completely thought out.

Now, in the aftermath of another dismal turnout for the B.C. municipal election, the people in charge of elections are offering suggestions to help improve those numbers.

For now, the topic du jour from Keith Archer, B.C.’s electoral officer, is how to motivate the younger people to vote.

I’ll give credit to this year’s forum organizers for inviting a young person to sit on a panel and ask at least one question that might be of interest to their generation. But certainly more needs to be done.

It’s somewhat ironic that our government representatives like Attorney General Shirley Bond admit that young people feel disengaged, that their views “don’t matter.”

This comes at a time when government is cutting back on education, fighting calls to raise the minimum wage to acceptable levels, making affordable housing a pipe dream and basically ignoring the plight of many young people involved in the Occupy Movement.

Part of the suggestion to encourage more voting revolves around the Internet. The easy route of online voting is the first volley in ways of attracting a younger demographic to participate. Do we really have to resort to the laziest method available to attract voters? What’s next? Twitter your vote.

Speeches, debates and campaigns will be a thing of the past as we turn to those ever-present “Apps” to get all our information. No sense talking about the issues with other like-minded citizens when we can simply sit at home and do it all while listening to iTunes and texting our BFFs.

Again such methods are gimmicky more than useful. There are too many variables that could cause chaos to make it a worthwhile effort.

Hacking, fraudulent entries, lack of computer access in some regions or even a power outage are only some of the reasons that voting online would cause more headaches than solutions. I can only imagine the conspiracy theories that would emerge from our first leader elected from online voting.

The government is having enough trouble convincing people how easy it can be to track their power consumption with new technology and now they expect us to believe we should determine our leaders by using a laptop?

I may be old school but I still believe putting your check mark on a ballot gives me a tangible feeling that I’m participating in democracy rather than filling out an online poll for my favorite album of the year.

But bringing the issue back closer to home and the recent municipal elections, Elections B.C. is recommending registering students even before they are eligible to vote.

While that is an admirable goal to create involvement and interest, I think it’s akin to offering youngsters an early chance at getting a driver’s license without any basic training behind the wheel.

Voting registration for 16 and 17 year olds really doesn’t serve much purpose without giving them a sense of what’s at stake.

I was shocked; make that embarrassed, recently to learn that many young teens are unaware of what the oil sands controversy is about or what was the impetus behind the Occupy Movement. Even networks that cater to the younger demographic, like MTV, made the Occupy Movement the victim of punch lines rather than an opportunity to educate their viewers. Mind you this is a network that serves up the thought-provoking round table of the Jersey Shore cast.

I believe if the government wants the younger people to be involved in politics, one would think education is the first step before registration.

Classes that for years have taught what the British North American Act represented or the names of Columbus’s three ships might actually set aside time to discuss how municipal taxes are decided or how school closures are determined.

It should be the duty of candidates to get out to schools. Then when they pitch their platform, it could actually stimulate conversation with young people.

So unless the entire system, from the halls of Victoria to the classrooms at Crowe, all row in the same direction to get young people involved in voting, the idea of registering young voters won’t gain traction.

We often warn adults never to simply sign up for something without learning more about it.

We should apply that same common sense when it comes to signing up future voters.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Daily Times