GRADING THE CANDIDATES
Youths get chance to compare their choices to parents’
Students cast ballots during a Student Vote mock municipal election at H.E. Beriault Junior High School on Thursday. The Edmonton municipal election will be held Monday.
Candidates who want Brandon Gratton’s vote must explain how they plan to spend Edmontonians’ tax dollars, and reconsider the city’s separated bike lanes.
Lucky for them, they’ll have at least six more years to earn his support.
Twelve-year-old Gratton is one of thousands of students at 225 Edmonton schools voting for the first time in a simulated civic election.
“I honestly was excited. I like the fact that we vote to see if our selection would be different than the parents and the adults — to see whether our society would be different or the same,” Gratton said.
Although Alberta students have previously marked mock ballots during federal and provincial elections, it’s the first time the Student Vote program has come to Alberta schools during a civic election. There are 934 schools taking part across the province.
At H. E Beriault Catholic Junior High School at 8125 167 St. NW Thursday morning, Steven Bain’s Grade 8 social studies class had morphed the small gym into a polling station.
Working as deputy returning officers, the teens prepared a voter’s list for each class, checked each student’s identification, signed and distributed ballots, and watched over the polls.
All 420 students at Beriault were tasked with studying a selection of mayoral, council, and school trustee candidates before marking their ballots.
“It really gets kids to think about the candidates, spot issues, to have discussions, and it lets them know how to become an engaged, active, informed citizen,” Bain said.
With voter turnout at 34.5 per cent in Edmonton’s 2013 civic election, Student Vote prepares students to be comfortable with how polling stations work before they turn 18, and how to efficiently research candidates, he said.
Sharone Abhilash, 13, can’t wait until she’s old enough to vote. She likes the proposal recently endorsed by city council and public and Catholic school boards to lower the civic voting age in Alberta to 16.
Adults should also pay more attention to school trustee elections, she said.
“We want innovation. It’s 2017, and the world needs to change a bit more. Look at the ’90s, and look at 2017. The classroom hasn’t changed. It’s the same thing, in a room, with tables and students,” Abhilash said.
When 13-year-old Alexis Skelly researched candidates in the ward, she was surprised how much work it took to run for office. She said people who don’t vote have no right to complain about election results.
“This person is representing you. Don’t you want to have a say in who would represent you?”
Student Vote is run by Torontobased charity Civix. Chief operating officer Lindsay Mazzucco said ballots cast by Edmonton students will be compiled and the results released on Monday, shortly after the real polls close at 8 p.m.
H. E. Beriault eighth grader Sam Malick, 13, said he was looking for candidates who were in favour of expanding the city’s LRT network and protected bike lanes.