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Concerns about youth voter turnout in federal election due to COVID-19 pandemic challenges

Last Updated Aug 24, 2021 at 8:33 pm EDT

OTTAWA (CityNews) ─ There are concerns that young people may face more barriers and deterrents in casting their ballots during this pandemic federal election, and that could have an impact on the outcome.

In the last federal election, it was a struggle to get Canadians aged 18 to 24 to the polls, with just over half of the more than two million eligible voters actually marking an “X.”

“Youth voter turnout remains significantly lower than the national average, roughly 13 per cent lower,” said Marley Gillies, the board chair for Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

Groups representing youth in Canada fear that number will drop even further with the COVID pandemic heightening some of the normal challenges to get young people to the polls.

“Frequent address changes, riding confusion as well as motivation, a lack of knowledge or maybe a lack of interest in the electoral process,” said Gillies.

WATCH: Week one of Canada’s election campaign ends (Aug. 22, 2021)

The pandemic has also forced Elections Canada not to run its “Vote on Campus” program, which normally sees ballot boxes set up at colleges and universities.

READ: CityNews’ extensive coverage of the 2021 federal election

But student associations are taking matters into their own hands, launching an online campaign to motivate young people to make a political choice.

That includes the non-partisan website Get Out the Vote, which informs people about where they can go to vote and what ID they need. The site can also send out reminders to cast a ballot, and it even suggests the best method to mark an “X.”

“Mail-in voting is the easiest and also the safest way for students to vote in this election,” said Gillies.

WATCH: Voter engagement for 2021 federal election (Aug. 18, 2021)

Experts say while youth issues have not been a major focus in this campaign, parties have been making an additional effort to connect with young voters through social media sites.

“If the individuals leading the parties send the right message, they will pique enough young people’s curiosity that yes, it could swing the vote,” said political analyst Karim Boulos.

But that could be a tough task in a short campaign. Canadians go to the polls Sept. 20.