By:When Kyle Elliott enrolled in his third year of law school this fall, he was excited about finally getting a break from the hours he spends in front of a mountain of law textbooks or in classrooms listening to lectures that never seem to end. Sources / More info: Osgoode Law School class targets low voter turnout in Jane and Finch | Toronto Star
Instead of the typical work long associated with graduate school, Elliott’s professor Jamil Jivani has enlisted his Osgoode Law School students to spend the semester knocking on doors and approaching strangers on street corners.
It’s part of a non-partisan voter mobilization group Jivani created called Jane and Finch Votes.
The goal, said Jivani, is to have his students encourage the Jane and Finch community to hit the polls this federal election.
“We want them to know it is not just about casting a ballot, but seeing what it can mean for your community,” he told the Star.
Ask Jivani why that’s so important for the area, and he can rattle off a lengthy list.
There’s the fact that the neighbourhood had the GTA’s lowest voter turnout in the last federal election, or that it’s home to those thought to be apathetic towards going to the polls — young people, newcomers, racialized groups and low-income families.
It’s also a community, he says, that’s entrenched in concerns about crime, housing, social justice and jobs.
Because so many of those issues are at stake during an election, he said, “we are asking people to take a leap of faith to believe that voting can be good for the community.”
Sometimes that’s a lesson that’s tricky, Elliott admitted.
Group members have had doors slammed in their faces and dealt with staunch anti-voters who refuse to listen to their message and others who argue with them about their goal.
But it hasn’t deterred Elliott.
Only 25, he’s been voting since he turned 18 and was living in the Britannia Woods neighbourhood in Ottawa.
The area, he said, is a lot like Jane and Finch. Both come with crime connotations, many low-income residents and a general feeling that “voting doesn’t make a difference.”
“I was one of the few actually going to the polls,” he says, attributing his interest in civic responsibility to his parents, who voted just as religiously as he does, never missing an election.
That taught him that “voting is contagious,” which he hopes those around Jane and Finch will discover as he and his classmates canvass homes, malls and busy street corners over the next few weeks.
The idea to mobilize a community in that way, said Jivani, came to him when he was in the U.S. working for a senator and seeing friends on President Barack Obama’s campaign targeting high-priority neighbourhoods where voter turnout was poor.
He had long hoped to inspire that kind of movement back in Toronto where he grew up, but didn’t have a chance until he nabbed a visiting professor spot at York University earlier this year.
His students, he said, have been enthusiastic about the project, giving up weekends and evenings to spread the word about voting.
The best-case scenario after all that work, Elliot said, would be everyone in the neighbourhood casting a ballot, but the group is aware the chances of that happening are slim.
That’s why they’ve set a goal to get 800 people to sign a pledge promising to vote. They say they’ll be happy if at least 300 of that total make it to the polls, because they figure it will create a one per cent increase in voter turnout in the area. In subsequent years, they’d like to up the ante.
But why not set the bar even higher right away?
Because “even just that one per cent is going to take a lot of work,” says Jivani. “I wanted to make sure we set a measurable goal, because when you are dealing with new voters it is so easy to be discouraged.”
To make sure that doesn’t happen, he said the group is offering to call residents to remind them to vote and to help them find transportation on election day.
They will also press people to take advantage of the advance polling period happening over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Even if they miss their mark, Jivani said he will be happy just knowing that his students have learned that “getting someone to vote is worth all the doors slammed in your face.”
GTA ridings with the lowest voter turnout:York West – 48.19 per cent
Etobicoke North – 51.60 per cent
York South–Weston – 51.91 per cent
Bramalea-Gore-Malton – 53.56 per cent
Brampton West – 54 per cent
GTA ridings with the highest voter turnouts:
Parkdale – High Park – 68.71 per cent
Oakville – 67.98 per cent
Beaches – East York – 66.66 per cent
Burlington – 66.54 per cent
St. Paul’s – 66.54 per cent
Ways other groups have encouraged people to voteMunchies:During Toronto’s last municipal election Sweet Olenka’s offered ice cream cones or truffles for those who came in with a photo snapped outside a polling station after they had voted. Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. stationed agents at polling stations in Ward 19 to dole out bottle cap coupons worth a free beer.
Mandatory voting:Countries around the globe have long turned to compulsory voting to tackle dismal voter turnout rates. Among those that have opted for some form of the practice are Argentina, Singapore, Peru, Brazil and Australia.
Star power:In 1990, U.S non-profit Rock the Vote was founded. It’s used celebrity spokespeople — Miley Cyrus, Lil Jon and Jake Gyllenhaal, to name a few — to get young people engaged with elections.
[tags: YorkU, Osgoode Law, Jamil Jivani, election, democracy, voter participation, jane and finch]