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Elections Manitoba: Engaging young voters in 2016 Provincial Elections

A presentation onEngaging young voters in 2016 Provincial Elections by Elections Manitobawas given by Ms. Shipra Verma, CEO, Manitoba, Canada at Election Commission of India (ECI) on 1 st March 2017. Dr. Nasim Zaidi, Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commission of India; Mr. Umesh Sinha and Mr. Sandeep Saxena, Deputy Election Commissioners of India and numerous other senior officials from Election Commission of India attended the presentation.
She started with the legislative framework that gives Elections Manitoba its mandate to conduct voter engagement initiatives followed by survey findings about Manitoban’s political engagement. Finally she gave a brief overview of some of the key youth voter engagement programs that have been developed in Manitoba. She explained that Elections Manitoba is the independent non-partisan agency of the Legislative Assembly responsible for conducting all provincial general elections and by-elections. “Under Manitoba’s Elections Act, we are mandated to provide information to the public, and specifically to develop programs that make the electoral process more accessible to those who ‘experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights’,” she informed. People give many different reasons for not voting, but in the survey reports can they can be divided into three broad categories:
Distracted: had no time, had to work, out of town, sick, forgot, etc.
Disassociated: didn’t trust candidates, not interested, didn’t know who to vote for, felt vote wouldn’t matter,
Displaced: Those who said they weren’t on voters list, not enumerated, couldn’t vote, had no ID However, despite all these different reasons given for not voting, there has always been strong support for the role of Elections Manitoba in encouraging people to vote. It was seen that, off the non-voters, 45% strongly support our engagement work, and 81% at least somewhat support it. As expected, the number increases among voters, with 68% strongly supporting it and 93% at least somewhat supporting it. Elections Manitoba has been able to achieve that by involving teachers and schools for over 25 years by offering support materials and in-class workshops.’Your Power to Choose’ was developed in 2006 in partnership with educators in the province. The program links directly with the grades 6, 9 and 11 social studies curriculum. Content connects with:
• Decision-making
• Critical thinking
• Values of citizenship
Education guides are available for teachers. They are activity-based and include materials for all the activities in the guide.Lessons in the guide involve many aspects of learning such as listening, reading, researching, role- playing and group activities.
“As part of ‘Your Power to Choose’, in-class workshops are arranged throughout the province. They are available in English or French, for grades 4 and above as alsofor adult learners. The workshops are designed to be fun and interactive for students.The workshop includes a mini election campaign, where students take on the roles of candidate and the campaign team. They’re given a budget and asked to campaign on the basis of how they would spend that money within their schools. The candidates make posters and give speeches to promote their platform. The mock election follows, with students taking on the roles of election workers.“During the current school year, we gave 282 workshops to 6,240 participants. In the month of the election alone, we gave 87 workshops to about 2,000 participants,” explained Ms. Verma.
Citizen Next was introduced for the 2011 election and then again for 2016.The project arose out of two key survey findings:
- voters were more likely than non-voters to have grown up in homes where politics and current events were discussed.
- non-voters were more likely to have children under 18 years of age in their households.
The goals are as follows:
• Provide experience of the electoral process to grade 11 and 12 students
• Create awareness among first time and future voters
• Build a foundation to recruit students as future election workers
• Develop familiarity and comfort with environment
• SIO promoted primarily through high school principals, coordinated through the HQ but assisted by Returning Officers.
Elections Manitoba promoted the program and recruited the students in the following manner:
- First, contacting principals of all high schools in province
- Providing them with job descriptions and application forms
- Returning Officers supported recruitment in their contact with schools
- Follow up with principals by email and phone
“We had different responses from different school: Some principals didn’t assist because they didn’t want their students missing school. Some may not have even read the information. Others were more enthusiastic and encouraged many students to participate”, Ms.Verma elaborated.
Social media accounts were developed for the first time during the 2011 general elections.and the activityincreased manifold in 2016 as they graduated from one-way communication to two-way communication. Moreover, with an aim to complement social media campaign targeting younger voters, ‘selfie stations’,at all voting places, were created. These encouraged people to share their voting experience and encourage friends and families to vote.
A mobile application was introduced in 2016 which was available for iphone/ipad, android and blackberry. It allowed users to find advance locations closest to them in real time (in Manitoba one can vote at any advance location).
She outlined the challenges as follows:
• No permanent voters list means no track demographics of the voters.
• Results of these campaigns are difficult to measure, as they are more long-term results and not easy to correlate with voter turnout
• Elementary/middle school/high school students may be interested in participating in these programs, but when it comes to voting and being consistent voters, it’s hard to maintain the engagement.
• Aboriginal youth, those not in school, disadvantaged youth are more difficult to reach.