Sowing the seeds of democratic participation early could play a large role in reaping a bumper crop of engaged young voters by the time the next federal contest rolls around.
On Wednesday, nearly 1,100 Duchess Park secondary school students tried their hands at the election process as a part of the Student Vote initiative, joining students across the country participating in parallel mock federal polls.
Students operating as returning officers and poll clerks manned polling stations on the school's second floor, processing a steady stream of authentic ballots marked by their peers.
"The kids are interested, they're smart, they want to be involved," said Christine Pelletier, a Duchess Park French Immersion and social studies teacher.
Having the federal election integrated into their social studies classes (outside of Grade 11, where the federal government is already part of the curriculum) and having the mock election was definitely an eye-opener, said Grade 11 student Devon Wood.
"You think it isn't that big of a deal, but as soon as you get into it, you're voting for somebody that's going to run your country. You're voting for somebody that's hopefully going to make change and do what's necessary to keep the country on its feet," said Wood, 16. "It's definitely a big deal."
The concept of voting and participation seemed blown out of proportion, said senior Nick Parent. But after having the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies candidates come to the school last week to outline their platforms and answer student questions, things were brought into perspective, said Parent, 16, who added that he probably would not have thought to cast a ballot once he was of age without having gone through this experience.
Though already politically aware thanks to her parents, Grade 11 student Rebecca Potts said having that access to candidates and hearing them first-hand also helps students form their own opinions.
"A lot of people didn't know much about politics. Even just the candidates coming and telling us what their parties represented informs us more so we're not just going off of what other people think about it for when we get to vote," said Potts, 16.
Most students wouldn't have thought about the political process until they were directed toward it via Student Vote, said Grade 10 student Rachael Holmes, 15. "But I think doing this will help them in the future for when they actually do have a chance to vote for something that counts. This really shows the high school students that it is important."
Students will take away a lot from the experience, said social studies teacher Donna Kemp, who helped spearhead the Student Vote process at Duchess Park.
"After the candidates assembly, you could literally feel a buzz in the building," she said.
Conversations about where they stand on issues have been frequent among their classmates, said Grade 11 student Adrienne Rex.
Those conversations have also continued outside of school hours.
"This also allows you to talk to your parents. When you're younger you kind of completely tune it out when someone else talks (about politics)," Rex, 16, said. "Now you have views on it and personal opinions and it's a little more higher intellectual conversation with parents."
The ballots cast during National Student Vote Week, Oct. 13-16, will be tallied and results released publicly on election night.
In 2011, Student Vote participants in the Cariboo-Prince George and Prince George-Peace River ridings gave the same mandate to eventual winners Conservatives Dick Harris and Bob Zimmer.