FAQ: Students Asked, We Answered

 

Young Canadians who want to know more about how our democracy works ask us some good questions.

Below, we’ve listed 10 questions from high school students, along with our answers.

1. Is Canada introducing online voting?

Canadians can do just about everything online, but they still can’t vote online in a federal election. Of course, there would be some benefits to online voting:

  • convenience: imagine voting from the couch in your pyjamas!
  • more options for voters on when and how they cast their ballots
  • easier access for people who have a hard time getting to the polls

So why are we still using old-fashioned pencil and paper to mark our ballots? Because pencil and paper can’t be hacked.

Online voting is just not secure enough: if an election was hacked, our democracy would be under threat. It’s too risky.

Here are some other downsides of online voting to think about:

  • privacy and secrecy concerns, such as information getting out about your identity or how you voted
  • fraud, such as someone voting under a false identity, or voting more than once
  • lack of transparency: since no one is there to observe the vote, people may have less confidence in the voting process and results

Talk about it: Are the potential benefits of online voting worth the risks?

2. In Australia, people must vote by law. Why don’t we have a law like that in Canada?

Mandatory voting works well in Australia. They’ve had it for a long time, almost since their first election. Because of this, it is widely accepted, just like jury duty or paying taxes. But what works in one country may not work in another. 

The right to vote in Canadian elections is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Exercising this right is up to each of us. Taking away that choice would probably be an unpopular decision. Some people might even see it as undemocratic. 

Mandatory voting has been shown to increase voter turnout by about 20 percent. But some people have been critical of the idea of casting a ballot only to avoid a fine.

Talk about it: Can you think of other ways to encourage people to vote?

3. Why can’t people under 18 vote?

Voting age is determined by Parliament, which revisits this topic from time to time. In fact, the voting age used to be 21! It was lowered to 18 in 1970. At that time, many people thought 18year-olds were not mature enough to vote. (Check out Elections Canada’s Voting Rights through Time resource to learn more about the history of youth voting rights.)

Here are some arguments for lowering the voting age to 16:

  • 16-year-olds are considered responsible enough to drive a vehicle
  • they can work, and some pay taxes, so they should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent
  • voting for the first time while they’re still in school will encourage young people to be life-long voters

Those who are against lowering the voting age argue that

  • 16-year-olds are still minors and do not have full responsibilities as citizens
  • they have not completed their education and may not have the judgment they need to exercise the right to vote
  • young people (18- to 24-year-olds) vote in far lower numbers than the rest of the population; lowering the age even further would lower the overall participation rate and weaken our democracy

Talk about it: Do you think 16- and 17-year-olds are mature enough to vote? Would you vote if you were allowed to?

4. How can I work in the next election? Would I have to give up my right to vote?

There are more than 280,000 jobs available during a federal election. That means on election day, Elections Canada is the largest employer in the country!

Any Canadian citizen who is at least 16 years old on election day is encouraged to apply, and all positions are paid. Keep in mind that election day falls on a school day. Make sure to check the rules in your province or territory about missing a day of school to work, and get permission from your school ahead of time. 

Those who work during an election who are of voting age can vote in that election. Only one Canadian citizen over 18 is not allowed to vote: the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.

Check it out: Students can visit Elections Canada’s Employment page to learn about jobs available during an election and to apply.

5. Young people are the future of our country, but they vote in lower numbers than other age groups. What is Elections Canada doing to get more youth voting?

Elections Canada is committed to making voting more accessible to all Canadians, including youth. Here are a few steps that Elections Canada has taken to make voting easier for young people:

  • putting polling places and pop-up Elections Canada offices on more than 115 university and college campuses
  • doing outreach to campuses and youth organizations
  • offering education programs for elementary and high school students
  • commissioning studies, such as the National Youth Survey, to better understand why some young people don’t vote

In the 2015 election, young people voted in much higher numbers than they had done in decades, but they still voted less than any other age group. Visit the Youth Voting Trends page on the Elections Canada website to learn more about what motivates young Canadians to vote.

Check it out: Looking for a fun inquiry-based in-class exercise to explore youth voting trends? Check out Elections Canada’s educational resource Elections by the Numbers

6. If schools gave civics classes the same importance as some other subjects, like math or science, would we see higher voter turnout by young people?

It’s hard to know for sure, but research shows that the more youth know about politics, the likelier they are to be engaged citizens.

Part of being a future voter is having the knowledge to understand the issues and make an informed decision when going to the polls. This is called civic literacy, and it includes

  • voting
  • understanding how government works
  • knowing how to be an active citizen at all three levels of government

Studies show that the better a young person’s civic literacy, the more likely they are to vote. Young people can even benefit by having conversations about politics with friends, teachers and family. That could have an impact on voter turnout, too. Even if students are not studying civics in school, encouraging them to talk to people about the issues that matter to them can help!

Check it out: Looking for teaching tools on citizenship and democracy? Here’s a good place to start.

7. Why do some ridings change boundaries or names over the years?

Canada’s population is always changing. People move around for work, babies are born, some communities grow and others shrink. That means our electoral districts, or ridings, need to change, too. This happens every 10 years, after the Census.

Ridings are created by independent electoral boundaries commissions in each province or territory, not by Elections Canada. Drawing a riding can be complicated. Commissions must consider many factors when creating or adjusting ridings, including

  • population size
  • a community’s shared culture and identity
  • the history of the riding
  • total area and geography

Because of this, every riding is unique. The largest riding in terms of total area is Nunavut, which measures over 2 million km2. The smallest riding is Toronto Centre, at only 6 km2.

Check it out: There are 338 ridings in Canada. Enter your postal code on the Elections Canada website to find your riding, then explore the resource Geography of Elections to learn about the demographics of your riding.

8. If people got election day off work, would more of them vote?

It’s hard to know whether more people would vote if election day were a day off work, like a statutory holiday. By law, employers must give employees time off to vote on election day if their work schedule doesn’t allow them three hours in a row to vote while the polls are open.

Anyway, election day is not the only time eligible voters can cast their ballot. Voters have a few other options to choose from:

  • vote at an advance poll, which is open on the weekend
  • vote in person at an Elections Canada office before the Tuesday before election day
  • vote by mail

With all these options, voters can choose what works best for their schedule. 

Check it out: For more information on the ways to vote, visit the Elections Canada website.

9. Where does Elections Canada stand on electoral reform?

Elections Canada does not take a position on electoral reform.

As a non-partisan agent of Parliament, Elections Canada’s role is to run federal elections, by-elections and referenda. Whatever electoral system is in place, this means making sure that Canadians are able to exercise their democratic rights to be a candidate and to vote.

Parliament revisits this issue from time to time to make sure our system is working in the best interests of citizens. This ongoing discussion is just one way to keep our democracy healthy.

Although Elections Canada doesn’t take a stand on electoral reform, future voters should stay curious and informed. Take a look at some of the other electoral systems being used around the world.

Talk about it: Do you think a different electoral system would work in Canada? Why or why not?

10. How does Elections Canada keep our elections safe and secure?

From voter registration to the counting of ballots—and everything in between—each step of the electoral process has a number of safeguards in place. This is what keeps our elections safe and secure. Here are some of these safeguards:

  • ballots are printed on special paper
  • serial numbers are printed on the ballots: that means election workers can make sure the ballots are not switched
  • voters must prove their identity and address when they go to vote
  • after someone has voted, the poll clerk crosses their name off the voter’s list so they can’t vote again
  • once voting is done, election workers must go through a series of steps to count the ballots

These and other measures are protected and enforced by law through the Canada Elections Act.

Check it out: Visit Elections Canada’s website to see more FAQs.