Why students don't vote
Photo by Grant Holt
By: Sam Marchetti
In the recent municipal election, McMaster University students living in Ward 1 were presented with quite the challenge: 15 candidates for mayor and 13 candidates for Ward 1 councillor. This sums to 28 candidates with 28 different platforms that could potentially affect student voters.
Students make up a substantial fraction of Ward 1 and yet the majority likely did not know all their options when they headed to the polls–that is, if they went to the polls at all. The Oct. 22 election saw one of the worst voter turnouts in the city’s history.
Considering that there were just under 9,000 ballots cast in Ward 1, and McMaster has an undergraduate population of about 27,000, it is safe to say that the majority of students did not cast their ballot.
There must be a reason for low student turnout. A quick poll among classmates revealed that most students did not know enough about the election and the candidates to think it was worth their time to cast a vote. Even among my own housemates, I know they didn’t cast a ballot just because they had no idea who to vote for.
Our new Ward 1 councillor, Maureen Wilson, won by over a 20 per cent margin. It is also interesting to note that Maureen Wilson was one of the most active candidates on social media and out in the community, with a large committee campaigning for her, knocking on doors and putting up signs.
One of the key points she made that attracted lots of attention and approval was her dedication to improving transit and completing the light rail transit system. However, I have serious doubts that most voters knew anything beyond this or even the platform of any other candidate.
It makes sense; who wants research different 28 candidates? That takes a lot of time and effort that most students can’t afford. But if anyone who had voted for Wilson based solely on her transit platform done a little more research, they might have noticed another candidate, Jason Allen.
Allen was also committed to improving our public transit, but had the added benefit of a background working in transit management. This clearly appealed to many voters who did the necessary research, since he was able to secure a second-place spot in the election.
I am not any better. I may have researched four of those 28 candidates, at most.
It is clear that with the sheer number of people running in Hamilton’s municipal elections, the municipal elections office has a responsibility to make every candidate’s platforms and publicized background easier to access.
It is true that newspapers like The Silhouette did offer summarized platforms of each of the 28 candidates. But this is not enough; the responsibility to provide an all-platform resource should not fall solely on external news outlets.
When we lack a system like this, we risk voters missing out on a candidate who may not have had the resources to run the most visible campaign, but could more accurately represent the feelings of our community. The lack of a municipally created and promoted all-platform resource seriously discourages a large number of people from making their voices heard.
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