PoSitics, Week 5: A Salute to Get-Out-The-Vote Campaigns

Who cares if students know why they’re voting – turnout is ‘gunna’ be great!


The elections are nearly upon us. As PoSitics comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many other voter engagement efforts out there trying their damnedest to convince students to vote this election.

These groups do their very best to get students involved with the system, often in unique and unorthodox ways. They regularly function with limited resources and in the face of considerable apathy, skepticism, and overt public mockery.

Take the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA). Recently, they released a get-out-the-vote video titled I’m Gunna Vote. This video is a timely parody of the 2009 Lonely Island hit I’m On A Boat that is intended to convey important messages about electoral politics in a manner relevant and relatable to today’s students.

(Note to freshmen: You might not immediately recall “I’m on a boat”, but you’ve probably heard it dozens of times. It was a rap single by that guy from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs – you know, the song with the word “motherfucker” in it twelve times that your friend played on repeat back in sixth grade whenever his mom wasn’t home.)

CUSA has been taking a lot of flak for the video from pessimistic prudes who lack the vision to understand what they have accomplished. If the critics out there spent a bit less time thinking up twitter insults, and a bit more time thinking critically, they’d realize that the video is actually delivering a number of subtle, surprisingly thoughtful points about the upcoming election in a language that is relevant to today’s youth.
Let us translate some of the lyrics for the older, less hip audience:

“Awww shit, get your ballots ready”

Before the song proper starts, one of the CUSA executives seemingly adopts the perspective of an Elections Canada official exhorting poll clerks to prepare for a higher than usual voter turnout. Given the long line-ups already observed during advance polling, we all hope and expect that Elections Canada will have sufficient quantities of up-to-date, easy-to-understand ballots prepared before October 19th.

“Stay on your motherfucking toes / We’re running this, let’s go”

The aforementioned executive confirms earlier suspicions that she is speaking as an avatar for Elections Canada, and wisely advises students to remain aware of recent riding boundary redistributions and changes to identification requirements outlined in the Fair Elections Act.

“Take a picture trick / I’m gunna vote bitch”

Switching to the student perspective after a brief interlude, the executive fires a laser-guided missile straight to the heart of voter surveillance and micro-targeting. As you may be aware, all of the major political parties collect vast quantities of personal information about Canadian citizens so that they can send us carefully-crafted, targeted messages based on our age, income level, and interests. The songwriters confront this controversial topic head on. They dare parties to continue their troubling surveillance tactics, for not even such off-putting behaviour by promiscuous, vote-hungry political parties will dissuade young Canadians from stepping up, cutting through the spin, and casting informed, thoughtful votes.

“The elections are comin’, gettin’ everyone upset / but this is Canada, this is as real as it gets”

Many people do feel intense, negative emotions during the election process. This can be due to such varied causes as party platforms that conflict with one’s desired direction for the country, unsavory campaign strategies that push the boundaries of ethical electioneering, or even patronizing get-out-the-vote campaigns that treat young people as if they are missing several key brain lobes. CUSA posits that this is a reality of Canada’s electoral process, one that we should acknowledge and accept, and that we certainly shouldn’t let discourage us from exercising our right to vote.

“I got my ballot box / and my voter IDs / I’m castin’ ballots, you at school / straight democracy”

I admit, the message starts to get a little too sophisticated for me at this point. I’m not sure why some students need their own personal ballot boxes, or why they are casting multiple votes while their fellow students are in class. This may be some sort of reference to past accusations of electoral fraud. Whatever the case, I have full faith that it is exactly the sort of thought-provoking commentary today’s undergraduates need to inspire them to vote.

I realize that not all get-out-the-vote campaigns are quite as intellectually stimulating as CUSA’s video. Not all attempt to enlighten young voters about important issues facing the country, or help them to find out more information about the parties’ platforms. Some simply cajole you to cast your ballot without providing meaningful context or assistance in making that decision. That is okay, though.

Ultimately, all that matters is that people vote. If we drag students to the polls and bump up those participation numbers, then we’ll have concrete, unassailable proof that Canada is a healthier, stronger democracy for our efforts.

Take a pair of young men I overheard while waiting in line at the grocery store the other day. They were discussing how they were definitely going to vote this time around – a shining victory for youth engagement activists. The first fellow indicated that he’d thought about voting Liberal because “Trudeau seemed cool,” but he just couldn’t bring himself to vote for the local candidate Andy Fillmore because “he fucked over artists with the Film Tax Credit thing last spring.” His friend nodded solemnly.

Now sure, these two young men will be basing their votes on incorrect facts and a fundamental misconception of how our political system operates. Who cares? They’re bringing us another two steps closer to a better turnout than 2011!

Would it be preferable if they understood that the provincial and federal governments are separate entities with separate responsibilities? That despite the fact he has nothing to do with provincial politics, Andy Fillmore openly opposed cutting the credit and actually wrote a letter to the Nova Scotia’s Premier and Finance Minister in support of the protestors?  That Stephen MacNeil and Andy Fillmore are not the same person?

Maybe. But these are relatively trivial concerns in the big picture. When it comes to democracy, quantity always beats quality.

Remember, Election Day is October 19th. Be sure to get out and vote if student turnout isn’t at least a few percentages points higher than last time, I won’t be able to claim that PoSitics was responsible on my resume!

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John Hillman

John Hillman is the Gazette's Opinions Editor. John is a second-year law student, but he has been at Dalhousie for much longer than that. Recently discovered cave paintings indicate he was first observed lurching around campus by Halifax’s original human settlers some time during the late Pleistocene epoch. He started writing for the Gazette back when you were in elementary school, but he unexpectedly went off the grid a half-decade ago to concentrate on helping found Punditry.ca, a DSU-focused political blog. Where exactly was he hiding between the years 2009-2013? Certain individuals would prefer he not comment. Why has he returned? Not because of a top-secret Illuminati indoctrination project known only as the Omega Initiative, that’s for sure.

You can email John at opinions@dalgazette.com.

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