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New Brunswick hires 'election ambassadors' in bid to generate youth excitement

Last Updated Sep 18, 2018 at 7:00 pm EST

Elections New Brunswick information materials aimed at encouraging students to vote in the upcoming provincial election are photographed in Fredericton on Tuesday, September 18, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Bissett

FREDERICTON – Election officials and student groups have launched a concerted effort to get students to vote in next week’s New Brunswick election — including flexible voting rules and the hiring of “election ambassadors” to generate excitement.

Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth said just 44 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 cast their ballots in the 2014 election.

“If those individuals continue to vote at the rate they voted at in 2014, we’re going to have a voter turnout well below 50 per cent. We want to get them started earlier and hopefully they will continue,” she said Tuesday.

Campus voting stations have been set up at 18 post-secondary institutions for this Monday’s election — up from 13 in 2014 and just four locations during a pilot project in 2010.

Poffenroth said Elections NB has produced posters, bookmarks, pencils and other swag as a way to get the message out, while larger campuses have been given grants to hire students as election ambassadors.

“The role of these ambassadors will be to raise excitement among the student population and create awareness,” she said.

“The sooner you instill that habit of voting, that it’s part of your civic duty but it’s also a privilege, it becomes a habit and they’ll continue to vote.”

The New Brunswick Student Alliance has partnered with Elections NB on the four campuses they represent: Mount Allison University, St. Thomas University, and the Saint John and Fredericton campuses of the University of New Brunswick.

Emily Blue, executive director of the student alliance, said it’s important that students become engaged in the election process.

“The decisions made in this province affect those students quite a bit,” she said.

Originally from Prince Edward Island, Blue is voting in her second New Brunswick election.

She said the voter turnout among young people in 2014 was very disappointing.

“Being able to mobilize those voters is really important in making sure that all the voices are heard and to make sure they have greater participation in the electoral process as they grow up,” she said.

New Brunswick students have the choice of voting for candidates in their home community or in the riding where they are living while going to school.

Students from outside the province can also vote as long as they meet residency requirements.

Students must have lived in New Brunswick for 40 days to vote. That compares to a number of provinces that have a six-month residency requirement, while Saskatchewan has no requirement other than being a resident on the day of the election.

Blue said they want a turnout greater than 44 per cent.

“We don’t have a target number, we really just want to increase engagement as much as possible. We want to increase the conversation that students are having,” she said.

The overall voter turnout in 2014 was 65 per cent.