Politics

Voting app aims to get young Canadians to polls

A Concordia University student is hoping to help reverse the voter apathy trend among young people across Canada in advance of the expected fall federal election.

Developer sees potential to engage young people in upcoming federal election

Voter turnout among Canadians 18 to 24 years old was only 39 per cent in the 2011 federal election, compared to 75 per cent for those aged 65-74. A Concordia University student is hoping his smartphone app will help reverse the voter apathy trend among young people. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

​A Concordia University student is hoping to help reverse the voter apathy trend among young people across Canada in advance of the expected fall federal election.

Matthew Heuman has created a new voting application for smart phones and tablets that he says gives youth voters the tools they need at election time — and takes away excuses for not voting.

The Vote Note app uses GPS technology to pinpoint riding districts for voters, providing them with candidate names and information, polling station locations and a clock that counts down to election day, which is expected Oct. 19.

The second-year journalism student says a lot of voter apathy he's witnessed is the result of young people being overwhelmed by the election process.

Navigating the Elections Canada website in search of information, for instance, can be daunting and even confusing, Heuman explains.

And for young people especially, he says the process needed to be simplified.

"Even just going to Elections Canada, like their [website] is archaic compared to what users are used to," said Heuman.

"There's so much information for various things on there that it's easy to get lost."

Dismal youth turnout in 2011

Heuman and his student colleagues spent countless hours sifting through government websites to compile information that would be relevant to young people.

What they developed was an app that provides information about the voting process and how to vote. It also lists candidates by riding, but randomizes searches to ensure there's no preferential treatment for individual candidates or parties.

Heuman, who has financed the project out of his own pocket, was in Ottawa this week showcasing the app for the federal parties, offering up sponsored space for candidate information that can be viewed by people using the app.

Just under 39 per cent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 cast ballots during the 2011 election, compared with the more than 75 per cent turnout rate for those aged 65 to 74, according to Elections Canada.

A similar voting pattern has been seen in every general election since 2004, when the agency began to study polling trends by age group.

It's a phenomenon that's taken hold in many other developed countries where voting is not mandatory.

In the United Kingdom, the past four general elections have recorded the lowest ever voter registration rates, with millions staying away from the polls and young people especially absent, according to Britain's Electoral Commission.

Commission figures showed that in 2010, only 44 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the general election compared with 76 per cent of people aged 65 and over.

Powerful tool

A similar trend was reversed recently in the United States as Barack Obama's campaign team took advantage of social media to reach out to young voters.

About half of all eligible people ages 18-29 voted in the 2012 U.S. election, roughly the same level as 2008, according to Peter Levine, director of the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

It was a stark turnaround from the 1990s, when youth turnout for presidential elections was regularly less than 40 per cent.

Obama was successful in 2012 in winning over two-thirds of the newly-invigorated youth vote, with young voters proving a decisive difference in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the university's results analysis.

"The youth vote there was a very powerful tool there to get (Obama) into power," said Heuman.

"We think it's a similar atmosphere (in Canada) right now,' he said.

"It might not be a bad idea to tap into that."

The redistribution and addition of ridings across Canada has also made voting all the more confusing for first-time voters, said Heuman.

Follow @tpedwell on Twitter.

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