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Young people don't vote. It's a refrain so common, you no longer need the songbook. Regardless of whether it's a federal, provincial or municipal election, the song remains the same.
Devin Calado displays the VoteNote app he helped create to assist voters with the upcoming federal election.

Young people don't vote.

It's a refrain so common, you no longer need the songbook. Regardless of whether it's a federal, provincial or municipal election, the song remains the same.

In the 2011 federal election, only 41 per cent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 cast ballots, compared to 57 per cent of voters between the ages of 30 and 55, and 67 per cent of voters over the age of 56.

But the ongoing narrative that Canadians under the age of 30 are apathetic and don't care about politics isn't helping to make a difference and, more importantly, it's not true.

A public opinion survey conducted last year by Samara Canada - a non-partisan charity focused on reconnecting people to politics - suggests Canadians under 30, on average, participate in political acts ranging from signing petitions and volunteering for charitable causes to attending protests and demonstrations and working with others to solve community problems at a rate 11 percentage points higher than other age groups.

Young people are very prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the, arguably, more labour-intensive political work, said Samara executive director Jane Hilderman.

However, they may not see it directly correlating with politics in the formal sense of casting ballots since there isn't a clear cause and effect.

"Voting doesn't always have that same trend line you can see - I cast a ballot and this change happened," Hilderman said.

"So I think young people care a lot and they care about seeing the difference, actually knowing they've made an impact."

At the age of 23, Adam De Kroon is the youngest candidate in the north, running for the Christian Heritage Party in Cariboo-Prince George.

He said he's something of an anomaly in his peer group.

"I think most young people are disillusioned with the whole system and don't think it works for them," De Kroon said, who has been a card-carrying member of his party since he was 17.

Interested in politics from an early age, De Kroon said he recalled watching political debates on television at the age of 10 and being struck by late NDP leader Jack Layton's passion for bringing change, despite not agreeing with him politically.

"I'm a believer in democracy, I believe it works for everybody," De Kroon said. And he said that when speaking about political issues with his contemporaries, they are also passionate and interested, but that doesn't necessarily get reflected when it comes to election day.

Finding a more inspirational route to the polling station was key for the B.C. branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, which launched a new initiative last week aimed at getting 10,000 students to cast ballots for the first time.

The campaign focuses on peer-to-peer relationships at post-secondary campuses throughout the province and encourages students to sign pledges to vote. Those who sign pledges - either online or in person at their student union office - are entered into a database that will be used to send voting information and reminders.

Making the process more accessible was the nucleus behind VoteNote, a new smartphone app developed by a group of Canadian university students, including UNBC computer science undergrad Devin Calado.

VoteNote is Calado's second foray into app development after having a hand in UNBC PhD candidate Geoff de Ruiter's Democracy Link application, which provides a link for users to contact their local politicians at all levels of government with their concerns via phone or email.

This one, dreamed up by Concordia University student Matthew Heuman, allows voters to find their federal riding via GPS, lists the candidates and provides information on the basics such as what identification is required to vote.

"The idea was to spark interest in younger people to vote. Give them an app where they can look at things, get more involved, they can share their favourite candidates and do that sort of stuff because it's integrated with Twitter and Facebook and those social platforms," said Calado, who is in his final semester at UNBC.

Available for both Apple and Android products, VoteNote's sharing capabilities are what help to gear it more towards their peers, said Calado.

For a small fee, candidates can submit their photo and biography which will be turned into shareable content for users.

There are also links within the app allowing users to compare party platforms based on issues.

Prior to being contacted by Heuman in May and working on this project over the summer, the 22-year-old said he wasn't politically engaged.

"I've never voted," Calado said, who had one missed federal opportunity since turning 18 and also skipped over municipal and provincial contests.

"I'm definitely way more interested now. I've already registered and I'm ready to vote."

In the future, Calado said the developers are hoping to make the platform usable for elections at other levels of government.

"Matthew is very into this," Calado said of the VoteNote founder.

"He's definitely taking this to the next step."

The negative frame of "apathetic youth" doesn't work because it doesn't create a sense of urgency, said CFS-BC spokesperson Jenelle Davies.

"(The CFS campaign is) driving that this is a social event - we're all going out together, you've got to join us, do you want to be part of this? Making it more of a social activity rather than an individual act of democracy," Davies said.

It's a tactic that has successfully engaged young people in other campaigns, such as Barack Obama's presidential run in the United States and this spring's marriage equality referendum in Ireland, Davies said.

Earlier this month, Samara released a report analyzing one aspect of why young people may be reluctant to vote, Message Not Delivered: The Myth of Apathetic Youth and the Importance of Contact in Political Participation.

A key message of the report is that contact from political leaders matters, said Hilderman, but so does the dialogue between friends, family and peer groups.

"So if you're interested in encouraging turnout, talk to people about the fact that you're voting and you think it's an important thing to do because that sort of little social nudge actually is shown to make a difference," Hilderman said.

According to Samara's research, the five million strong 18-29 demographic is the most likely to be ignored by political parties, candidates and party leaders when they're reaching out via mail, phone, email, in person and on social media.

Conversely, Elections Canada's 2011 National Youth Survey found that turnout for youth contacted by political leaders was 15 percentage points higher.

"Canada is now in a vicious circle where young people largely don't vote, in part because they aren't contacted by political leaders, and they're not contacted because they don't vote," said the report, which also identifies other issues such as young people being more difficult to contact via traditional means such as mail or landline phone calls.

Former Katimavik co-ordinator Nathan Cullen rose to victory in Skeena-Bulkely Valley in 2004 with a strong youth following and hasn't wavered from that strategy since.

The NDP incumbent in the province's northwest said he spends a great deal of time in schools, bringing young people into the political conversation.

"We couldn't run our campaign without people, a big majority of them under 30 and a whole bunch of them under 20. I was just door knocking with a bunch of high school kids in Kitimat and Terrace," Cullen said during a campaign stop Tuesday in Prince George.

In addition to bringing in new ideas, young people have a relatively untainted enthusiasm for the country, he said.

But the younger demographic is a tough crowd, Cullen acknowledged, which might make them intimidating to other politicians.

"Go and stand in front of a high school group - they're not going to mince words, they're going to speak very directly and ask the hard questions. And I know a lot of my colleagues in the House won't go within 100 yards of a high school. I think they're afraid," Cullen said.

"You've got to stand your ground and have some answers. Kids are engaged, they're informed and they want to know what you've got to say - and they'll judge you. It's fun."

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