On Saturday, October 15, polling stations will open to the public for the 2022 municipal elections. This election is a time for the public to vote on issues important to them and to make a difference in matters affecting individuals and groups at local level. A large group of voters strongly affected by current issues, such as housing, are students.
Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) external executive Jessie Niikoi says it’s more important than ever for students to vote in municipal elections with the current housing crisis spiraling so out of control.
“I think it’s very important for students to vote in the next elections because most of the things that affect students right now are handled by the municipality,” Niikoi says. “So things like housing… I always feel like it’s important for students to know that they can decide who is going to handle these things for the next few years.”
The municipality also influences public transport, which many students depend on on a daily basis. Daniel Reeve, a political science instructor at Camosun College, explains that while the province provides funds for public transit, the municipality does the work of organizing and making decisions about the bus system.
“The province provides the money but it is the municipality that does the work by organizing and deciding how much the fees are, the routes, the frequency… So again, the municipality will decide for a lot of students at how fast and how often a bus could come and take them to school,” Reeve says.
CCSS works to encourage students to vote in elections by hosting events such as political engagement fairs and sharing campaign materials on campus.
“We really want good people to run our municipality, so we have a political engagement fair [that happened] October 4th and 5th, so we opened the door for all applicants to come and talk about what they have to offer,” says Niikoi. “And because we are also members of the BCFS [British Columbia Federation of Students]we also receive campaign materials from them as they also help us to get the word out and let people know they need to vote in these [elections].”
Municipal elections historically have a much lower turnout than provincial or federal elections; this allows voters to have a greater impact on their community. Not only do these smaller elections allow every vote to have a more direct bearing on issues, but they also give people the chance to connect with their local councilors, Reeve says.
“The number of people who vote in this election is much smaller, typically 25-35% of potential voters vote,” Reeve says. “Your vote has more resonance. You select more candidates… And because there are fewer votes, your vote has more influence than, say, a provincial or federal election. And once the people are elected, you can meet your local elected officials. Most of them are not professional politicians, it is their part-time job, and their job is to reach out to their communities. You just have better access.
Statistically, college students and younger age groups have low voter turnout, so Reeve recommends voting as early as possible to get into the habit. He advises people to try not to get overwhelmed by city politics and to take it easy.
“Voting is a habit, and the sooner you get into the habit, the more likely you are to continue,” says Reeve. “It’s almost like training wheels. Take a few candidates you trust who support the kind of values you have and vote for them. Don’t worry about the rest. So maybe next time you can choose a few more. This can be a starting point towards one of our democratic responsibilities, which is to make our voice heard.