SACKVILLE, N.B. – Although some might not even be old enough to vote, connecting with New Brunswick’s youth is key to ensuring the province’s democratic process has a healthy future.
This was the message New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer, Kimberly Poffenroth, stressed during a visit to Sackville’s returning office last Tuesday as part of a province-wide tour.
“If you expose students before they’re even old enough to vote to the democratic process and the importance of it, demystify the whole process of voting, they become engaged and interested,” she explained, “so hopefully there’s that spillover effect . . . there won’t be a second thought as to whether they will or won’t vote. It’ll just be a natural choice for them.”
To accomplish this, Poffenroth said Elections NB is currently working in collaboration with a group called CIVIX on a new initiative that will give New Brunswick schools the opportunity for students in Grades 4-12 to participate in a mock election in conjunction with the current provincial election, set for Monday, Sept. 24.
“The last time I looked at the list we had 134 schools that had signed up.”
While not every class at each of these schools will participate, Poffenroth said those that do will see students vote for the same candidates as their parents and grandparents, adding teachers will be provided with a variety of resources to aid in the process. In addition, candidates will be invited into schools to participate in debates or simply talk about the democratic process.
Poffenroth hopes students take a very important message away from the process: “If you don’t vote, you’re allowing other people to make decisions about the future of the province.”
She feels the new initiative will also have a positive effect on adult voters in the province, as students will be discussing what they’ve learned with their parents and grandparents, who may in turn become involved in the voting process when they otherwise wouldn’t.
Tapping a valuable resource
Bill Hicks, returning officer for the Memramcook-Tantramar riding, said Elections NB is also looking to recruit more eligible high school students to work at polling stations. Locally, he said, they visited Tantramar Regional High School in June to ensure students knew about the opportunity.
Hicks said in addition to learning more about how the democratic process works, students employed at the polling stations gain valuable work experience that will look good on a future resume. He added students also bring a great deal of technical expertise to the positions, as they are already computer literate.
“We can’t underplay the benefit to Elections NB of having younger people in the polling stations,”Poffenroth added. “They’re so adept and confident with the technology. In certain areas of the province they’re also a great source of a bilingual workforce, as well, because many are in French immersion.”
Increasing post-secondary participation
Elections NB is also working to increase voter participation at the university and community campus level, Poffenroth said, adding there will be polling stations at the schools to allow students to vote.
At Mount Allison University, for example, Elections NB is providing a grant that will allow them to hire two student ambassadors.
Hicks explained Elections NB is providing the ambassadors with training, as well as promotional materials, including brochures and banners, that will be circulated throughout the campus.
“Their role is to get out on campus and make their fellow students aware that Elections NB is going to be on campus, where we’re going to be, when we’re going to be there, and just raise awareness about the program and that their vote counts,” Poffenroth said.
For more on Elections NB, visit https://www.electionsnb.ca/.
DID YOU KNOW
In order to ensure all eligible New Brunswickers can exercise their right to vote, Elections NB offers a wide variety of assistive technologies and other accommodations at polling stations for people living with disabilities, including:
– Scent reduced marker
– Braille controller with audio
– Sip and puff with audio
– Paddles with audio
– Braille instruction sheet
– With a friend
– Level access polling stations
– Voting by special ballot
– Pocket talker
– Magnifying glasses
– Visual language interpreter
For more details, visit http://www.electionsnb.ca/content/enb/en/disabilities.html or contact your nearest polling station.