How to motivate young voters

Politically savvy man offers ideas to entice his generation

Bonnie Belec
Published on August 26, 2013
Nathan Barnes of Paradise is a young voter who is involved in community matters and is engaged in municipal issues. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Don’t tell Nathan Barnes or anyone of his generation they have to vote.

Don’t tell the 20-somethings of today they should vote, he said; don’t tell them it’s their responsibility.

Barnes, who does vote and has voted in every election at every level of politics since he was old enough, said forcing young voters to make their mark only pushes them further away.

“Tell them they have the opportunity to shape their community the way they would like to see it,” said the 25-year-old Paradise resident.

“Tell them they have options. Tell them their opinion matters, but don’t tell them what to do,” said Barnes, who has been involved with several community and youth groups all his young life and still is.

As municipalities head into their first election since 2009 election officers across the province are struggling to motivate the electorate. They’re using any means possible to get citizens involved in the issues, to get to know the candidates and to vote. Posters pepper town halls and public buildings outlining where and when to vote, and websites are spewing information about the voters list — how to check if you’re on it and how to get on it if you’re not.

It’s a constant battle, said Rodney Cumby, Paradise’s chief administration officer.

“With regards to voter participation, apathy is a large issue for municipalities right across the country. The Town of Paradise puts considerable effort into making the voting process as easy as possible for everyone. These efforts include updating the voters list, and the location of polling stations,” Cumby said.

Cumby said there are about 11,600 voters on the list. The cost of running the election for the town is about $20,000.

Nomination day is Thursday, Aug. 29 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the town hall. The advance poll is set for Sept. 11 at the Rotary Paradise Youth and Community Centre. There will be three polling stations on election day — St. Thomas Hall, the youth centre and Elizabeth Park Elementary.

Cumby said in the past several years the town has tried to come up with creative ways to get residents to participate in politics, including the Mayor for a Day contest, which won the town an award from Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador two years in a row.

“From each of the three Grade 5 classes in the three different schools, students run for the positions of councillor or mayor. They actually campaign and those elected get a chance to sit around the table and make municipal decisions and direct staff to carry them out. It is hoped that this kind of initiative will raise an interest in their community for young people at an early age,” said Cumby.

 Barnes said reaching out to students through school is the perfect way to introduce young people to town politics.

He said when he was in high school in 2003, Paradise set up a group with young people to talk about local issues, and what came out of it was the idea for the youth centre between the town and the Avalon Northeast Rotary Club.

“They reached out to youth and asked us what we thought was needed for young people in Paradise. It turned out that was an important step and I think that’s where councils need to be going,” said Barnes.

He said the youth centre and the new arena being built near it are two important projects that will mean a lot to the future growth of the town.

“Paradise has come a long way in a short time and is still growing and I don’t think it’s reached its peak.

“Right now at the end of my street by Octagon Pond they’re making it four lanes and I think the biggest issues facing Paradise right now is the roads. Generally it’s one way in and out via Topsail Road and there’s major congestion and traffic as a result,” Barnes said.

Roadwork has caused a lot of traffic headaches in Paradise this summer, but the lane expansions around Glenderek Drive near Octagon Pond have resulted in traffic being rerouted through some of the nearby neighbourhoods.

One resident of one of those streets is Mike Rose, who said since the work began Aug. 16 he feels like he’s living on a speedway.

“I’m fine with the detour. The work has to be done. My concern is the traffic going through the subdivision is excessive and there’s not enough being done to control it. It’s crazy there at times, especially rush hour,” said Rose, who has lived in Paradise for 3 1/2 years.

He said there was a speed sign put at the entrance to the subdivision, but that isn’t enough, so he has shared his concerns with council.

In a letter to the editor in the Aug. 22 edition of The Telegram, Rose suggested more signage, speed bumps and enforcement was needed.

The town’s chief administrative officer said the town understands Rose’s frustration and staff are stepping up efforts.

“Speeding is an issue all over. We have speed bumps out where we can. We also have permanent speed monitors in school zones, and portable ones we use to monitor and evaluate speeds in different locations,” said Cumby.

“We have also asked the RNC to do extra patrols, especially in the detour areas,” he said, adding he has recently seen vehicles being pulled over by police in the detour area.

 Cumby said the road improvements have to be done and the use of detours is the best way to minimize the inconveniences to drivers. But he said people have to realize these areas are where people and young children live.

“We would like to remind all people using this route that this is a residential area and please be cognizant about their speeds,” he said.

After Rose complained about the excessive speeds on his street, he said he attended a council meeting to see what it was doing about it and was taken aback by what he observed.

“I was one of two people there and the other one is running in the election. I couldn’t believe it. I know there’s been a lot of complaints about the detours, and concerns. I was really surprised I was the only one there.

“I think people have to get more involved,” he said.