New Democrats are hoping to bring up youth voter numbers with new legislation that lowers the age that voters can register.
Michelle Mungall, Nelson-Creston MLA and New Democrat Advanced Education critic, was in Cranbrook this week talking to students at Mount Baker Secondary School about the new legislation, the Promoting Youth Vote Act.
“It is an amendment of the Elections Act,” Mungall said. “Right now you have to be 18 to register to vote. We’re proposing that we reduce the voter registration age.”
Mungall said it’s critical to get youth interested and involved at this early age, as at the moment, only one in five youth from ages 18-25 are registered to vote. She said that is pretty level across the board, including the East Kootenay.
“This is a huge demographic that is not participating in our democracy and that’s never a good thing,” she said.
The plan was recommended by Elections BC as a way to get voters interested, and follows some U.S. states like Florida, Hawaii and Oregon, as well as countries like Australia in allowing voters to register prior to the age where voting is allowed.
Mungall said a major reason young people don’t vote is that they don’t feel they know enough about the process to feel comfortable voting.
“There is an incredible amount of alienation with the democratic process,” she said.
Mungall noted that post-secondary students are less likely to vote, despite a vested interest as B.C. students take on some of the largest student loans west of the Maritime provinces. She said the B.C. Liberals haven’t done much for B.C. students, and cut a program that helps those in financial need.
“As a result, if students don’t come out to vote, their issues often don’t get put on the table as strongly as they should be and we see that in post-secondary education,” she said.
The BC Liberals government has put forth an RESP program, but Mungall said it is difficult to see who will benefit from it, as it most likely will be students 12 years down the road, not students today.
Mungall noted that the New Democrats have earmarked $100 million for financial needs based grants to be used if the party is elected.
Mungall told the students that if they want to find out more about the Promoting Youth Vote Act they could contact local New Democrat candidate Norma Blissett at normablissett.bcndp.ca.
Both Blissett and Mungall were impressed by the thoughtful questions the students had on the election topic.
“We just need to reach out to them,” Mungall said.