“Everybody has an opinion,” said Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) Grade 6 student Mimi Irigoyen.
“If you are in the lower grades or higher grades or any age, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has one.”
OJCS students had the opportunity to express that opinion and make their voice count during the 2015 Student Vote held on Friday, October 16.
Student Vote – a national program organized by CIVIX – is a parallel election for students under the voting age that coincides with municipal, territorial, provincial and federal elections. This year it coincides with the federal election on October 19.
Organized by the Grade 6 class and teacher Linda Signer, students from Grades 2 to 8 experienced the voting process firsthand as they lined up at the polling site to sign-in and receive their ballot from the poll clerks. The ballots used were replicas of the official election ballots for the Ottawa Centre riding, complete with the full list of election candidates.
The final count of OJCS student votes, shared on Monday evening after the official election results were declared, put Conservative candidate Damian Konstantinakos in the lead at 56 votes, with Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna close behind at 54 votes, and NDP candidate Paul Dewar with nine votes. The total number of valid votes was 132. Other candidates who received votes were Dean T. Harris of the Libertarian Party (six votes), Tom Milroy of the Green Party (four votes), John Andrew Omowole Akpata of the Marijuana Party (two votes), and Stuart Ryan of the Communist Party (one vote).
“My team of Grade 6 students did an unbelievable job,” said Signer, who has been organizing Student Vote at OJCS for six years. “I couldn’t get over how many students voted in such a short period of time. Some students were confused about how to read the ballot, but my team took responsibility and helped them out.”
Signer said the material and resources she receives from the national project get better each year.
“This year they had incredible videos and graphic organizers that were great for elementary and middle school.”
During the past few weeks, the Grade 6 class used the resources to learn about the different political parties and their platforms, the Canadian government, the electoral system and the right to vote. She also assigned each student a job for voting day.
“Today when we were doing the vote, I was the deputy returning officer,” said Mia Donatucci.
“You have to sign the ballots before they actually vote and you help them if they need it.”
“I was the poll clerk and I crossed out their names on the list,” said Anton Vilenkin.
Student Vote is a real-life opportunity for young Canadians to build the habits of informed and engaged citizenship so they will be more inclined to vote when they are of age; but it has also helped encourage conversations at home with parents, and in turn, voter turnout overall.
“Student Vote was hoping that if their children were voting, maybe parents would vote too. And it’s happening,” said Signer. “People are starting to respond more and honestly, in my past few years, we have had some very heated conversations in our classrooms. The students were so into the election, I couldn’t get over it, and they’re having these conversations at home so it’s a win-win for the government.”