Over the past four decades, we’ve seen a steady decline in voter participation in our elections. We’re nearing the point where more people may sit out elections than actually vote.
This is particularly pronounced among young British Columbians.
Young people are cut out of the political process by the vested interests who have a lot at stake in the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. It’s time to change that.
B.C.’s current voting system — commonly called “first past the post” — was first used in the 1800s and re-introduced in the 1950s, around the same time Elvis was starting his career and hula hoops were making their debut.
Under “first past the post,” it’s common for a candidate to win an election with a minority of the total vote. In a three-way race, candidates often win with just 40 per cent of the vote. For that 60 per cent whose candidates weren’t elected, it’s as though their votes don’t count at all.
To make matters worse, many ridings in B.C. are considered “safe seats” — districts where a particular party’s candidate will win no matter the election outcome in the rest of the province. In those seats, there’s little incentive to vote at all, since you already know who will win.
If we take a look at the last 18 provincial elections, the winning party received less than half the vote in all but one of those elections.
The evidence is clear: something is seriously wrong with our voting system.
Young people — like us — have been left out for too long.
We’re the generation that came of age starting in 2000. We grew up as the most-connected, best-educated, most debt-ridden generation in history. There are more of us in the workforce than there are baby boomers or Gen-Xers — yet we face more challenges and fewer opportunities than the generations that came before us.
Making matters worse, politicians often choose to ignore our issues because of our perceived lack of ballot box power. And in turn, we’re discouraged from voting because they don’t engage on the issues that are important to us.
Too many of our generation feel the futility of voting in a system where the critical issues our generation faces are overlooked. We know student and youth participation in our electoral system is not reflective of political apathy or disengagement. There is a high level of participation by youth and students in volunteerism, community service, and other progressive public causes.
We want in. And we can make that happen by voting for proportional representation in the upcoming referendum.
Proportional representation is a better way to vote, where each party’s percentage of the seats in the legislature corresponds to the percentage of votes they receive.
That means rural B.C. will be well represented no matter who wins the election — and will always have a rural voice in cabinet.
Proportional representation will increase voter turnout, especially for young British Columbians, and ensure that B.C.’s many diverse communities are included in the political process, regardless of which party is in power.
Perhaps most importantly, it will help to elect MLAs who put their constituents — not the party bosses — first.
We have an opportunity to reshape the way we do politics in B.C. — a chance to bring in a voting system that works for everyone. Let’s do it!
Aran Armutlu is chair of the B.C. Federation of Students; Phoebe Lo Patigdas is the former chair of the Vancouver Island University Students’ Union; Simka Marshall is a member of Vote PR B.C.’s outreach team; Romeo Tello is Vote PR B.C.’s field coordinator.