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HELSTON: Learning to vote is like learning to drive, we all need a little practice

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
October 16, 2015 - 8:02 AM

In Canada, you might be born with the democratic right to vote, but you’re not born with a magical gene that makes you a natural voter. That’s a skill that takes time and patience to cultivate.

And, no, I’m not talking about the basic hand-eye coordination required to draw an ‘X’ on a piece of paper.

I sat down with a 22-year-old, first time Vernon voter last week. Baffled, but brave, she admitted exercising her right to vote has been quite the workout. We hear all the time about low voter turnout among youths, so I was eager to ask her why she thinks so many of her peers don’t make it to the polls. Confusion and embarrassment topped the list.

“I’m honest, so I’m going to say I have no idea what I’m doing,” she said. “For people that don’t know what to look for, or what questions to ask, it can be overwhelming to start at square one. One, it’s embarrassing, and two, people are just so confused.”

Learning how to drive a car, how to cook, and how to do your taxes all takes practice — why shouldn’t voting? It’s a democratic right, and one we are lucky to have, but it’s a skill, and not one you’re born with, or one that can be acquired overnight by simply turning on the news. 

When youth in this country turn 18, they have the heavy responsibility of voting bestowed upon them. It’s like, ‘Happy birthday, honey, here’s a pasta maker, I’m not going to tell you how all the moving pieces work — but you better use it, and be grateful for it!’

We put a big emphasis on things like where to vote, when to vote, and what identification you need to bring with you, but there’s a lot more to the process than that, and it starts with simply figuring out where you stand on issues. Every election, we are challenged to question our ethical, social and moral stance on a wide range of issues affecting our country, and as the young lady I interviewed pointed out, that’s easier said than done.

“I have to figure out what values I want for myself, for my community and my country. It’s hard,” she said.

There’s a lot to pay attention to in this election. There’s the duelling party leaders making promises and accusations at some far off rally on the other side of Canada. There’s local people vying to be your representative in Ottawa. There’s talk of income-splitting, the economy, strategic voting, and something called the TPP. It could take weeks just to find out everything there is to know about one, single issue.

“I don’t know what the senate is, but I know they’re trying to abolish it. I know there’s a pipeline, but I don’t know where it goes,” the young woman explained in our interview.

Is this young voter’s confusion a scathing indictment on our education system as one commenter stated? A failing of our government itself to inspire passion in people? A symptom of the digital age and all the distractions it carries with it? I don’t have the answers. What I do know, is every voter is a work in progress. It takes time, and yes, probably a bit of work, to be ‘good’ at voting, but it’s a skill you will carry proudly for the rest of your life. In the words of one of Vernon’s first time voters, “I really don’t know what I’m doing but I never will if I don’t take this first step.”

So put it in first gear and head to the polling station on Oct. 19.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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