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Youth vote a factor in Weaver's election strategy

Almost a hundred thousand B.C. high schools students participated in a mock election campaign this past month that paralleled the official one. They read up on the real candidates, discussed the actual parties' policies, and on Tuesday morning, voted for a majority NDP government.

The mock election also saw the Greens take eight seats, with 17.28 per cent of the popular vote -- an indication, perhaps, of the unprecedented success of the Green Party in the real election to come.

The youth vote was definitely factor in getting Andrew Weaver, the province's first Green MLA, a seat in the legislature, says his communications director Naomi Devine.

"How much of a factor, we're still trying to figure that out," says Devine.

"This is the big thing that we hear on every election, that if the youth get out and vote they could change the face of the election. We're trying to unlock the key of what motivates them to vote."

Weaver's strategy, explains Devine, was a sub-campaign focused on youth and a pledge drive to get young people to commit to voting, and encourage their friends to do the same. The campaign also had a presence on the University of Victoria and Camosun College campuses to let students know they could vote in advance before leaving for the summer.

The timing of the B.C. elections -- in the spring, when many college and university students are moving out and moving on -- is a particular challenge, notes Devine.

But across Canada, even in provinces where elections are held in the fall, voter turnout in the 18 to 34 demographic is historically low.

However, trying to appeal to "the mystic species" known as young voters is missing the point, opined Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, in a recent Huffington Post article. Fenton points to the student and youth oriented vote mobs that went viral across Canada during the last federal election. This great effort to get youth to the ballot box resulted in an election where youth voter turnout actually fell.

"The problem was not the action itself, nor the intent," wrote Fenton. "It made a clear statement that thousands of youth across Canada cared about the direction Canada is headed in. The flaw was a symptom of constant reinforcement from political parties and organizations that our generation's only power lies in the ballot box."

Tara Mahoney, founder of the civic engagement group Gen Why Media, said she generally agrees with Fenton's arguments.

"I think young people are more interested in movement politics than electoral politics because movement politics has the scope to address the systematic nature of the problems facing our generation," she wrote in an email to The Tyee.

"As young people, we are in a peculiar moment. We must engage with a process (voting) tailored to other demographics and make choices about issues we already feel disenfranchised from.

"I can see how this situation can cause apathy and/or even despair among our generation because it seems to be completely out-of-touch with the way many young people are thinking about social change. However, if we don't engage in electoral politics, we will continue to be even more disenfranchised -- so it's a chicken and egg thing."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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